REVIEW: 2:22 A GHOST STORY (Criterion Theatre)

A spooky story in 2022 faces a challenge like never before: competing with a relentless catalogue of stories worldwide that have pinpointed every trick in the book. Writer Danny Robins boldly presents ‘2:22 A Ghost Story’, intertwining elements of horror and the supernatural with psychological thrills in an environment we’re all familiar with – the family home. It’ll take a matter of minutes for this performance to make its intentions clear: you shouldn’t get too comfortable, things are awry.

Jenny (Mandip Gill) is exhausted from redecorating the house and looking after her nearly-one year old, flustered by the prospect of hosting a dinner party with her somewhat disorganised husband Sam (Tom Felton). Friend Lauren (Beatriz Romilly) arrives with new beau Ben (Sam Swainsbury) and the night begins, with conversation quickly turning to Jenny’s growing terror about the unmistakable sound of footsteps in her daughter’s room – at the same time, every night – with no plausible explanation. Thought-provoking debates about the source of these intrusive noises ensue, and as the wine pours the provocation appears: who will stay up with Jenny until 2:22am to experience the mysterious intruder for themselves?

Anna Fleischle is responsible for the sensationally realistic set – equipped with fully plumbed taps and ‘work in progress’ style wallpaper, achieving a welcomed sense of realism as we are quickly enveloped into the characters’ world. Simple features such as a genuinely boiling kettle and a porch light flickering on are so familiar to an audience that we relax into our seats, forgetting that cunning direction from Matthew Dunster is going to make us jump out of them again frequently. Cleverly-timed (and pitched) audio and lighting (vertigo sufferers beware) dramatically contrast the relaxed familial setting and make you shudder when you think about it the day after. Also: baby monitors will never go out of fashion in terms of creepiness.

Felton – whose residency as Sam will no doubt pull in the crowds as much as Lily Allen did last year as Jenny – is warm and charismatic, his character’s obnoxious know-it-all traits forgiven by an excellent sense of humour. He is as natural on stage as on the big screen. Gill triumphs in personifying Jenny’s anxious and disturbed state, presenting her unrelenting, passionate belief in the validity of her own mind and what she has heard night after night.

The script flexes between tense, highly-charged arguments and reflective commentaries, offering intimate insights into why each of the characters have an affinity – or lack of – with the supernatural. Despite this, the neurotic, ‘hysterical woman’ trope deployed in Robins’ script is quite tired and unimaginative, begging for a more original take on a young family dynamic and perhaps a fresher scenario than a dinner party, which promises inevitable conflict avec alcohol (‘Abigail’s Party’-esque). I’d like to have seen less predictable relationships before us, so that the characters were more likeable and well-rounded, rather than falling into stereotypical arcs. Still: Robins has written in a delightful amount of passive aggressive and sarcastic humour within our party-goers, which both entertains and puts us at temporary ease.

Tension and suspense build as the clock ticks up towards midnight and down past the early hours. Soak up the discomfort: your anticipation will likely not prepare you for what comes at the strike of 2:22.

★★★★

Reviewed by Laura Evans