2:22 A Ghost Story – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Tom Ralphs

Writer: Danny Robins

Director: Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr

There was a time when the words ‘a ghost story’ would suggest spooky sound effects, unexplained rearranging of furniture, and various other things that go bump in the night. That those days are long gone, and ghost stories are now more about the psychological and the power of suggestion is undoubtedly true. Danny Robins script relies on dialogue rather than special effects and 2:22 A Ghost Story is less a ghost story and more a story about ghosts and whether and why we choose to believe in them.

Sam (Nathaniel Curtis) and Jenny (Louisa Lytton) are a married couple with one child. They have moved into a now leafy suburb of London, after buying a home that for years was home to a couple who lived, grew old and, in the case of the husband, died there. That the wishes of the person selling the house have been disregarded by Sam and Jenny as they strip back flooring, remove wallpaper and install large glass patio doors, while retaining some of the things that mean her late husband’s presence is still felt around the place, provide the basic ingredients for a traditional ghost story. Add in the voice and footsteps that come through the baby monitor at 2.22 each morning, and the stage is set for the time that a haunting will take place.

Most of the play is set earlier in the evening as Jenny has invited Sam’s longstanding friend Lauren (Charlene Boyd) around to the house to coincide with Sam’s return from a working retreat. Lauren has brought her new partner Ben (Joe Absolom) with her. The decision is made for Lauren and Ben to stay in the house so they can all find out if Jenny’s belief that there are mysterious goings on are true or a figment of her imagination as Sam suggests.

Matthew Dunster and Isabel Mann’s direction is more akin to a 1990 mates movie about couples and unrequited love than it is about the supernatural, particularly in the first act as characters and relationships are established. Even as the clock gets closer to the witching hour, the dialogue is more debate and discussion, with the lack of any real suspense or fear of what might be awaiting them.

As Sam, Curtis comes over as a cross between Simon Bird in the Inbetweeners and Steven Mangan in pretty much anything he’s been in. He has the sharpest lines as he dismisses the other three’s ardent belief in the paranormal and also despairs at Lauren’s choice of partner.

As Ben, Absolom is the builder and local lad who has seen the neighbourhood go through numerous changes over the years as local people have left to be replaced first by European workers and now by posh young couples such as Sam and Jenny. A straw man conspiracy theorist, he doesn’t have to justify any of his beliefs with any recourse to real facts which allows Absolom to play up the comedic side of the role.

Jenny and Lauren are less three dimensional. Jenny is defined by her role as a mother worrying about her child, and Lauren is the single woman who has fallen for an unsuitable man and may or may not have feelings for Sam. Lytton and Boyd play the parts well, but it feels like their characters are vehicles for the story rather than fully developed.

The play follows the format of films such as Sixth Sense and The Others with a late twist, but is less satisfying than it could have been, as it doesn’t make you question the gap between what you have seen and what the reality is for any of the characters.

Good but not great, intriguing but not gripping, 2:22 A Ghost Story is entertaining but not the edge of the seat drama that defines the best the genre has to offer.

Runs until 30 September 2023 then touring | Image: Contributed

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