2:22 A Ghost Story – Gielgud Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Writer: Danny Robins

Director: Matthew Dunster

It’s Christmas, so we must have a ghost story. The reason for the connection is unclear, but it could have something to do with Charles Dickens. Lying in wait to answer the call was Danny Robins’ modern take on Gothic horror, which enjoyed a limited run at the Noël Coward Theatre a few months back and it now returns to the West End, completely recast.

Sam (Elliot Cowan) and Jenny (Giovanna Fletcher) have recently moved into an old house, along with their infant daughter, Phoebe. The house is now undergoing extensive refurbishment. Anna Fleischle’s imposing set design tells us instantly that things are not quite right. The place looks creepy and it sounds creaky. Glass patio doors anticipate the sudden appearance of uninvited visitors. A baby monitor blares out Phoebe’s eerie whimpering. A large digital clock hanging above a door looks completely incongruous in its old fashioned setting. 

We know from the start that something unworldly is going to happen at precisely 2:22 am and the clock becomes vital to building up suspense late in the play. The action takes place over an evening in which Sam and Jenny are hosting neighbours Ben (James Buckley) and Lauren (Stephanie Beatrix). Various tensions emerge, but, crucially, Jenny is convinced to the point of hysteria that the house is haunted and Ben believes strongly in the paranormal, while Sam and Lauren remain firmly sceptical.

The quartet’s banal conversations continue well into the night and, when the clock shows midnight, a thunderstorm arrives on cue; only two hours and twenty-two minutes to go, but, thankfully, the play is not being performed in real time. Director Matthew Dunster’s competent, but frequently pedestrian production struggles to address the problem of a first act in which hardly anything happens. Sudden bursts of loud screeching and flashing lights occur at intervals, but they bear no relevance to any story that is unfolding, leaving a feeling that the most likely reason for their inclusion could be to ensure that the audience does not fall asleep.

The second act is slightly more engaging as the deadly hour gets closer and at least the climax involves more than just cheap shocks. The nature of the denouement is utterly predictable, but its specifics are not and, as in all the best ghost stories, the outcome makes absolutely no sense.

The creative team for this production could have done worse than listen to the advice of Elvis Presley: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”. As it stands, the ghastly chitchat exceeds the ghostly apparitions by a ratio far greater than 2.22 to 1.

Booking until 12 February 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

More ghastly than ghostly

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