2:22 A GHOST STORY

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _20th JAN.

January 17, 2024

images © Johan Persson.

For a show that pivots around a central concept of ghostly mysteries and supernatural uncertainties, Danny Robins2:22 has pulled a fairly canny move since its West End debut in 2021. As press releases, programmes and even the show’s curtain call practically beg audiences to not give the game away or share any spoilers, the spooky thriller has set to continue its Mousetrap-esque silence through a bout of good old fashioned deflection and distraction.

From Lily Allen to the freshly mononymous ‘Cheryl’, over the course of the past three years, a routine wheeling of names flitting in and out of the piece has kept us all distracted by who is actually in it, rather than what actually happens. So can she even act? makes for more obvious water cooler banter than spoiler-laden intricacies of plot and narrative.

For this, the show’s inaugural UK tour, the show hasn’t quite managed to pull off as juicy a casting coup as its London counterpart, though nascent interest has lingered enough to certainly make it a curio. And that isn’t to say the tour’s casting has been a slouch, either. The propensity for cycling through new faces on the regular has remained intact, too; at the end of 2023, the likes of TV stars such as Joe Absolom, Nathaniel Curtis and Louisa Lytton bowed out after just three months on the road with the show, with The Wanted star and Strictly Come Dancing champ Jay McGuiness stepping in as potentially the biggest name in the fresh lineup for the new year.

Which, in a way, sees the same Cheryl-shaped question bubbling to the surface…

Cutting through to the quick of what 2:22 is actually about, here is a creepy thriller-cum-relationship drama that doesn’t just throw in the kitchen sink, but practically sets it on fire, to boot. As new parents Jenny (Emmerdale’s Fiona Wade) and Sam (Casualty’s George Rainsford) grapple with the pressures and realities of renovating a house whilst also juggling a newborn, they welcome Sam’s old uni pal, Lauren (HollyoaksVera Chok) and her new beau, Ben (McGuiness) over for an evening of catching up and chewing the fat.

The only problem is, Jenny is more than a little distracted by spooky goings-on that she’s been experiencing in their new idyll, and is becoming increasingly convinced there may be sinister and otherworldly explanations for it all. Her worry (paranoia?) sits at stark odds with Sam’s rigorous (overbearing?) skepticism and science-based rationalisation.

Over the course of the evening, the four friends will pick away at personal demons, past traumas and increasingly complicated dynamics, whilst counting down to the feted hour when Lauren’s haunted happenings supposedly take place…

Given his experience in the field of all things supernatural, Uncanny’s Danny Robins unsurprisingly acquits himself well as a playwright of the paranormal. And yet, perhaps 2:22’s biggest surprise and strongest flair is in its cutting, witty dialogue and deeply human interplay. Characters interrupt and talk over one another. Microaggressions are precisely that. Exposition and reflection feel earnest and natural. Fundamentally for a play that spends an awful amount of its time being little more than a handful of friends talking, it manages to get its patter and dialogue admirably on point.

“…for a play that spends an awful amount of its time being little more than a handful of friends talking, it manages to get its patter and dialogue admirably on point.”

It’s frequently funny, too. Often through contrast of sincerity and exasperation, faith and doubt, Robins’ characters, whilst not Earth-shatteringly original or unique, nonetheless bounce off of one another well and rub each other up all the wrong (see: right) ways. Rainsford’s dry, deadpan Sam gets plenty of funny as he appears at times to be the sole voice of cold (if condescending) logic amidst the increasingly heightened and fantastical discourse about him. Chok’s Lauren is perhaps the most dimensional and complicated of the bunch, and the actress does a terrific job of finding light, shade, sass and even wine-slogging bawdiness over the course of the show’s lean but satisfying two-hour runtime. She’s superb.

And yes, McGuiness can act, too. Robins clearly appreciates the need to puncture the increasing tension throughout to stop it all from getting too poe-faced or self-important, and much of this is courtesy of McGuiness’ rough and ready yet deceptively sensitive builder. Whilst it is a turn with more than a whiff of the ‘cockerney’ about it, McGuiness lands the laughs comfortably throughout.

With Rainsford treading an impressive balance between being entertainingly insufferable and know-all without coming across as a total tw*t, Wade’s is the only role that feels a touch thankless here. Whilst there is some compelling marital strife bubbling away over the course of the night between the duo, and the ever-creeping shadow of whether or not this could all be heading into Gaslight kinds of territory, Sam is undeniably the more multi-faceted and interesting character of the pair. Whilst Wade is mostly solid in the part, Lauren regularly feels reduced to little more than your rudimentary distressed young mother who doesn’t feel she is being taken seriously enough.

“With its Scandi-inspired splashes of modernity, towering skylights and all, Anna Fleischle’s impressive and striking set feels as much a character as the four leads…”

With its Scandi-inspired splashes of modernity, towering skylights and all, Anna Fleischle’s impressive and striking set feels as much a character as the four leads. Pitched mid-renovation, the swanky, vertiginous joint at first impresses, before the eye can fully take a moment to notice the telltale signs of transition and heritage. Layers of history, remnants of former tenants, as unfinished walls and half-painted door frames hint at stories of yesteryear. Throw in Lucy Carter’s moody lighting and Ian Dickinson’s creeping, occasionally startling sound design and you have a production of both notable polish and regularly unnerving ambience.

Out of a want to make good on the promise to not spoil the fun, there is much about 2:22 that can’t be shared, or even broached. Whilst this particular reviewer manage to peg where it was all headed by the interval, and some may find the outcome disappointingly predictable, there were audibly many others who did not, and  blindsided by where Robins takes the tale.

And even those who are able to pick up on the tells and piece together the mystery will be hard pressed to disagree that this is a handsomely executed, engagingly performed piece of character-driven drama and chills.

“Whether its carousel of stunt casting and ‘Guess Who?’ casting will be enough to sustain 2:22 for anything approaching the length of time that The Mousetrap has been playing the same spoiler-free game, is anyone’s guess.”

Whether its carousel of stunt casting and ‘Guess Who?’ casting will be enough to sustain 2:22 for anything approaching the length of time that The Mousetrap has been playing the same spoiler-free game, is anyone’s guess.

But before then, there is still plenty to enjoy and recommend in what proves to be a stylish, chilling evening of theatre that is perhaps unexpectedly at its strongest when it keeps its all-too-humdrum dynamics at the forefront, and the supernatural shenanigans as, well, spectres lingering ominously at the periphery.

A suitably ominous, handsomely executed piece that, whilst rarely particularly scary, nonetheless bristles with Robins’ sharp writing and keenly observed dynamics. Delivered by a likeable cast, it makes for an intriguing, occasionally unsettling yet always compelling slice of spooky, if familiar, theatre.

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