We were crazy that Sunday in London. And had no idea what we were doing. We had tickets to see the breathtakingly good The Doctor at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a 2:30pm matinee, and it seemed reasonable to book 2:22 – A Ghost Story also in the West End at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus for an evening show at 6pm, as shows aren’t normally even scheduled for Sunday. So we’re thinking, great. Two shows on London’s typically dark day of theatre. A total score for these two theatre junkies.
Little did we know that The Doctor was three (magnificent) hours long, letting us out at 530pm, and giving us just 30 minutes to walk over to Piccadilly, eating crisps on the way that we were given by our friends for dinner. It wasn’t leisurely, but, I can tell you this, it certainly was nothing to complain about, as both these shows filled us up well and good. In very different ways, yes, but that’s the exciting thing about theatre. It doesn’t all have to be intellectual nor Tammy Faye The Musical (review coming) to be utterly fulfilling and appetite suppressing.
Taking in the room before us, a bit winded but excited, we sit watching the neon red clock with anticipation. Something, we know, is going to happen in that space at 2:22am, or there would be no reason for this Ghost Story. It’s a sharp sense of dread that envelopes us from the beginning, and it keeps us tuned in and paying attention from the get-go in the new play, 2:22 – A Ghost Story, written most wonderfully by Danny Robins (End of the Pier). With the right amount of tension and scares before us, and our critical mind tuned in to every possible future fright before us, the play expertly teases out the tale, giving us ample time and engagement to take us to the end, as we settle in waiting for that hour to arrive.
It’s quite the fun tense ride, and as directed with a clear sense of itself by Matthew Dunster (Broadway’s Hangman), this sexy sharp and scary new Ghost Story finds its way into our nervous system with ease. We are actively tingling with tense excitement, as the new mother, Jenny, played strongly by Laura Whitmore (RTE’s Finding Joy), moves with purpose around the spacious living space all on her own late one night. We are there with her, almost instantly, feeling the energy surging out of her. She is utterly convinced that this big new house that she and her husband, Sam, played devilishly by Felix Scott (The Arts Theatre’s Dirty Great Love Story) is haunted. Yet she is the only one to have experienced anything. Sam has been away, you see, leaving her all alone with their newborn baby. She’s exhausted, overly tired, and stressed out, but she is also convinced that she would hear, every night, at 2:22am, footsteps moving around the baby’s room, and the sound of someone weeping. She can’t find any way of explaining, as she feels it is true in every atom of her being. But it is Sam, ever the logical one, who is determined not to believe in these silly ghost stories.
The couple has invited over another for a dinner party. A fun gathering with Sam’s good friend Lauren, brilliantly embodied by Tamsin Carroll (NT’s Hex), and her new boyfriend, Ben, dynamically portrayed by Matt Willis (Regent’s Park Open Air’s Little Shop of Horrors). The tension is already present, for other reasons, mainly revolving around the fact that Sam never likes anyone Lauren dates. But Jenny has an ulterior motive. She wants them all to hang around until that dreaded hour is registered on that digital clock above the door, so that they may be witness to the sounds, and believe in the ghost story she has to tell.
So we join in the watching of that neon red digital clock tick its way to that time, as this wickedly wonderful ghost story play unwinds itself, raising the tension with each minute passing. We are totally in, watching the sliding glass doors, guessing that might be one of the ways we are given a shocking visual to make us jump in our seats. We constantly are scanning the space looking for the possible ways we might be shocked so that maybe we won’t be too frightened by what might jump out of the shadows – or am I the only one who needs to ‘prepare’ in that way?
The production, as designed by the incomparable Anna Fleischle (West End/Broadway’s Death of a Salesman) gives plenty of opportunity and space to be scared within, with epic lighting designed by Lucy Carter (NT’s Medea) and costuming by Cindy Lin (Trafalgar Studios’ Actually). Screams ring out throughout, usually ushering us from one set-up to the next, thanks to sound designer Ian Dickinson (West End/Broadway’s Company), but they are blamed on the foxes that live in the area. It’s a cheap tactic, that bit, as it is there just to keep us on the edge and jumping out of our seats, but the true art of this telling is in the clever storytelling and rising paranoia that the writing elicits.
The script is as sharp and smart as one could hope for, while staying more in the chilly creaky variety of a ghost story, rather than the bloody or graphic kind, making it a pretty near-perfect scary, tense ghost story, pulling us along and leading us down dark alleyways of thought and conjecture. The cast deliciously and expertly digs themselves in for the duration, playing us and challenging us to understand what is happening or what might be coming. And I am definitely not going to let the cat out of the bag here. Cause it’s just too much fun and smart to give it away.
Director Dunster keeps the momentum going, and maintains our interest as the clock marches forward. The clues spill out shifting the table forward, but only make the most sense once you are out of the theatre walking through the streets of London, delighted with the journey you were taken on, and how devilishly smart it all is and was. It’s a genuinely great puzzle and yarn to unwrap, and when the clock hits its mark, we get everything we didn’t know we were hoping for. 2:22 – A Ghost Story is a true blue ghost story beautifully and emotionally rolled out and delivered most brilliantly. It’s also playing in Los Angeles now (closing Dec 3rd) and most likely making its ghostly way to NYC soon enough. Fingers crossed. Now, if only the production could just chill out on the deafening fox screams. This story doesn’t require those cheap jolts, it’s got everything it needs within the writing to make us electric with fear and excitement.