2:22 A Ghost Story
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After runs at the Noël Coward and Gielgud Theatres, this award-winning production starts a fresh season at the Criterion with a new cast.
New mum Jenny is convinced that there is a ghost in the house that she and husband Sam are in the middle of renovating. Several nights in a row, she has heard footsteps and crying in the baby’s bedroom. Sam, who is writing a book on astronomy, was away on a star-watching trip to Sark with its skies free of light pollution. Now he is back, ridiculing the whole idea and making Jenny even more upset.
They’ve invited Lauren, an old university friend of Sam’s, for dinner to meet her now live-in lover Ben and as they all argue about the possibility of ghosts. Jenny gets them to agree to stay on until the time she claims the hauntings repeatedly happened: 2:22AM.
There is a big digital clock in the open-plan kitchen / living-room so we can watch the time ticking down as they knock back the booze and the tensions build up between them.
Tension in the audience has been building too, from the moment the house lights went out, when shrill screams filled the theatre and the line of red light round the proscenium started flashing. Those screams may have been the shrieks of urban foxes mating, but that doesn’t make them less disturbing and it doesn’t account for the other noises that the baby monitor relays from the nursery.
Director Matthew Dunster repeats that first effect (with lighting by Lucy Carter and sound by Sam Dickinson) to cover every time shift in the action and it works every time, and a succession of other scary moments spread a frisson of fear through the audience, but there is also a great deal of laughter as we see the relationships between these couples fracture.
Mandip Gill (Jasmin in Dr Who) presents an already fraught schoolteacher Jenny: Sam was due back earlier, and hadn’t warned he was held up. He claimed he lost his phone and he couldn’t contact her. She has kept up the DIY, looked after baby, cooked for this long-planned dinner and then there have been these weird noises. She needs support, not the rejection of her concerns which already undermines their marriage.
Sam is played by Tom Felton who gives him a surface charm—but he’s a bit of a know-all. As Lauren remarks, his favourite phrase is, “I think you will find,” before correcting a faulty fact. Sam (ironically as it turns out) is adamant that ghosts don’t exist, but working-class builder Ben (who grew up in this now being gentrified area) claims experience otherwise and sets up a seance, while Lauren, who it emerges still carries a torch for Sam, gets drunker.
This isn’t just dinner party talk about spectres and a picture of typically unbalanced relationships, it throws light on different kinds of snobbery, looks at the way we disregard the past and our predecessors as we put our own stamp on our homes.
Though meticulous in the realism of its multiple details, Anna Fleischle’s setting, with its ultra-high ceiling and sloping roof lights, is unsettlingly odd but its awkwardly inserted French windows and layers of partly stripped wallpaper are reminders of its past histories. Are they going to feature in this haunting if there really is one?
Dramatist Danny Robins does deliver. There will be a ghost; you won’t be disappointed. When 2:22 comes…. It is no time for spoilers. But what do you believe in? Have you been spooked or are you a sceptic, and would you know a ghost if you saw one?
Reviewer: Howard Loxton