2:22 – A Ghost Story

Danny Robins
Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment
Sheffield Lyceum

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George Rainsford(Sam) and Fiona Wade (Jenny) Credit: Johan Persson
Vera Chok as Jenny Credit: Johan Persson
Jay McGuiness Credit: Johan Persson

There was a revolution in British Theatre in the 1960s when Peter Brook coined the term 'Deadly Theatre' in his controversial but still influential book The Empty Space.

'Deadly Theatre' was characterised as lacking in originality and derived from successful models in the same genre. While writer Danny Roberts has clearly had a lifetime interest in the paranormal, which has powered several of his works, in this case, the drama seems laboured and lacking in excitement.

In a programme note, Roberts asks, "why does an audience come to see a play about ghosts?" And the answer he provides is significant. They come for the excitement of being frightened, and "the exhilaration of being exposed to terror in a contained way."

Regrettably, in this production, there was little opportunity for fear or exhilaration.

The set is a convincing representation of a newly modernised Victorian house, open plan with huge, glassed double doors opening onto the garden where foxes scream. All mod cons are there (including Alexa).

The four members of the cast will be familiar to the audience for their performances in popular TV sitcoms or pop concerts. Fiona Wade (Emmerdale) plays Jenny, wife to George Rainsford (Casualty) playing Sam, owners of the house and parents of a new born baby. Their two visitors for a long night are Vera Chok (Hollyoaks) as Lauren and Jay McGuiness (boy band The Wanted) as Ben. The baby's cries are heard on a monitor.

It is a dark and stormy night. Sam has just returned from a few days working abroad and Jenny is agitated because she's sure the house is haunted. The conversation turns to ghostly matters. Sam is a rationalist who rejects anything to do with the supernatural, but Ben believes in ghosts and eventually conducts a seance. Vera is undecided, but recounts a strange story about a friend who died but waved to her from a lift several days later.

And then, inexplicable things begin to happen. How does the baby's teddy bear end up in the bathroom sink covered in paint remover? Why can Jenny hear footsteps upstairs? By the interval, we were engaged in a mystery but had not had a terrifying fright.

The action of the play is punctuated by pauses for scene changes when the proscenium arch is framed in blood-red neon to the accompaniment of grating and shrieking noises. But there is no object of terror which appears through the double glass doors or emerges from the concealed staircase.

The actors give confident performances, but the volume level of encounters fluctuates regularly from very loud emotional or argumentative exchanges to very quiet, rather inaudible ones. The ongoing discussion of paranormal events does not inspire, so presumably the variation in volume is to keep the audience alert. In the early stages of the play, the audience is kept entertained by frequent use of the f-word, which is amusing to some.

Shortcomings in this as a theatrical experience are largely to do with the script, but also a lack of excitement in the staging and special effects. I regret that this is not a production I can enthusiastically recommend.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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