2:22 A Ghost Story

Danny Robins
Tristan Baker, Charlie Parsons, Runaway Entertainment, Isobel David and Kater Gordon
The Lowry, Salford

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2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson
2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson
2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson
2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson
2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson
2:22 A Ghost Story Credit: Johan Persson

Much of the fun of the old X-Files TV show was the tension between one character sincerely wanting to believe in extra-terrestrial life and another being sceptical. Danny Robins’s 2:22 A Ghost Story uses a similar clash between rationalism and faith to bring intellectual depth to a very effective chiller.

All new parents face problems, but those encountered by Jenny (Fiona Wade) and Sam (George Rainsford) are particularly unusual, possibly unearthly. With a newborn child and a home in the process of being renovated, Jenny is already under stress. She is aggravated her academic husband left her in the lurch to undertake a research trip to Sark during which he did not communicate, claiming to have lost his mobile phone.

During his absence, Jenny has become convinced their new home is haunted, hearing footsteps and the sound of crying in their baby’s room every day at 2:22 in the morning. However, Sam is not just a rationalist, he is intellectually arrogant and dismissive of any ideas which do not accord with his worldview. To gain support for her arguments, Jenny invites Sam’s friend from university, Lauren (Vera Chok), to a housewarming dinner, knowing her current boyfriend Ben (Jay McGuiness) is a spiritualist. Having a captive audience, Jenny demands they stay until 2:22 to see if the spirit makes an appearance.

2:22 A Ghost Story involves, therefore, extensive debate about the existence or otherwise of ghosts. This is never less than interesting, at times fascinating. A rational explanation for ‘cold spots’ is that the biological ‘fright or flight’ response moves blood from the extremities to the heart, so feet and hands feel cold. Of course, the debates serve also to distract the audience from clues foreshadowing the twist ending, which author Robins, in the best tradition of thriller writers, hides in plain sight. This is the sort of enjoyable play where the penny might not drop until after you’ve left the theatre: "Oh, so that’s why…"

The script might be an analysis of the truth or otherwise of spooky goings-on, but directors Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr are shameless in simply getting the audience to jump out of their skins. The opening of the play features the stage bordered in scarlet while the first of a series of urban fox cries (which sound remarkably like human screams) echo through the theatre. Not wishing to miss an opportunity to ramp up the tension, the co-directors have a neon clock in plain view counting down to the moment the ghost may or may not make an appearance. Security lights outside the window add a suitably eerie effect.

There is an undercurrent of social consciousness to the play. Professionals Jenny and Sam are sensitive about having moved into a gentrified area previously occupied by the likes of Ben’s working-class family. Ben’s observations on the gentrification process, however, lack subtlety, coming close to prejudicial.

The play features a macho contest between Sam and Ben as to who can pee the highest. The tension between the characters is apparent even in their style of dress—Ben has gone to the trouble of dressing for dinner while Sam can’t be bothered and wears a Dominic Cummings-style body warmer. Jay McGuiness’s interpretation suggests Ben is outclassed, opting for a broad, comedic character rather than an evangelical true believer. George Rainsford pushes the obnoxious aspects of Sam to the maximum, but there is an intense, professorial, lecturing undertone—someone who is convinced his view is correct and will hammer down anyone who does not agree.

The female characters carry the emotional weight of the play and so expose the vulnerability to outside, possible supernatural, forces. Vera Chok, drinking too much and with longing glances at photographs, conveys the sense of a life unfulfilled, while Fiona Wade is very much a knackered wife worn out by trying to make a connection with an emotionally retarded husband.

2:22 A Ghost Story ends with a plea to the audience not to reveal the surprise ending; but you wouldn’t want to—so much of the fun of the play is working through the twists and turns of the plot. The play is a rarity, a show that justifies the hype and satisfies both intellectually and emotionally.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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