2:22 A Ghost Story – Review – Hull New Theatre

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By Rachel Howard, May 2024

I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre… ever since watching The Exorcist as a mid-teen (definitely not the intended demographic), I have avoided anything likely to make me jump, give me nightmares or make me afraid of the dark.

So why, you might ask, am I excitedly (if not slightly apprehensively), taking my seat at Hull New Theatre for the opening night of 2:22 A Ghost Story? It’s a good question, but the level of hype around this play, written by Danny Robins, might have something to do with it.

The thriller originally opened in the West End in 2021 and was nominated for three Laurence Olivier Awards just a year later (narrowly missing out on Best New Play to Life of Pi). In the few years that followed, the West End cast has included names such as Lily Allen, Jake Wood, James Buckley, Cheryl, Jaime Winstone, Matt Willis, Laura Whitmore and Frankie Bridge.

But even with a back catalogue of big names and brilliant reviews, I’m none the wiser as to what the play is actually about. So as the lights go down, I think to myself – somewhat naively “how scary can a theatre production really be…?”

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“Baited breath”

Tonight’s edition of the touring show sees a small but perfectly formed cast take to the stage – Vera Chok (Hollyoaks) plays Lauren; Jay McGuiness (The Wanted, Strictly Come Dancing) plays Ben; George Rainsford (Casualty, Holby City) plays Sam; and Fiona Wade (Emmerdale) is Jenny.

We begin the story in the home of Sam and Jenny, and their baby daughter Phoebe. It’s a big old pile they bought cheap and are halfway through renovating – think warehouse-style high ceilings, open-plan kitchen/dining/living room, and large sliding doors out into the back garden. It’s a labour of love for Sam, but simply a labour for Jenny, who is missing the comfort of her previous home and it’s location close to her family. Cracks are beginning to show – not only in the walls, but in their relationship too… and things are made even worse when she becomes convinced the house is haunted.

In a desperate attempt to persuade her very scientifically minded, logical husband that she isn’t losing her marbles, and maybe there is such a thing as ghosts, she invites their friend Lauren round for the evening, with her new boyfriend, Ben, in tow. From the get go, there are issues – Sam is sticking to his theory that ghosts don’t exist, it’s just not scientifically possible; Ben on the other hand is a cock-sure wideboy who wholeheartedly believes in the afterlife, and is more than happy to help Jenny prove her theory right. Lauren, who is clearly suffering from her own ghosts of the past, seems acutely interested in Sam being proven wrong for once.

Cue the most intense evening you’ve ever been invited to. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I told you too much about what unfolds; believe me, it’s worth seeing for yourself. But if you are of a nervous disposition, buckle in, it’s a rough ride! I lose count of the times we all jump out of our seats – and when I say ‘we’ I mean the whole audience. Terrified yelps, embarrassed sniggers and deep breathing are heard all around the auditorium, in stark contrast to the eerily silent moments where you can hear a pin drop, as we wait with baited breath to see what transpires next.

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“Powerful impact”

The tension is elevated by the fact there is very little to distract from the superbly talented foursome on stage. The set is stunningly created (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the New Theatre stage seem so large), but the scene never changes, it remains the same throughout. As do the costumes, makeup, hair etc. There isn’t a musical soundtrack as such, but sound is used to powerful impact, as is lighting – with bright red neon strip lighting dazzling out into the crowd at the most opportune moments.

But the one constantly moving element is the large red digital clock on the wall in the living room. Ominously flashing away, getting closer and closer to 2:22 – the time at which Jenny thinks the ghost becomes most menacing. As the clock ticks down, and my heart beat rises, I start searching for answers, desperately trying to work out just what is happening and who to believe.

Did I work it out? No! Were my friend and I still picking it apart in the car on the way home? Yes!

But I did come up with one very clear answer to an earlier question… “how scary can a theatre production really be…?” Turns out, very! But that’s testament to the first-rate writing, cast and production team. It’s not hard to see why this play has attracted so many big names and so much publicity in the few years since its creation. It’s terrifyingly good, and may even have turned me into a fan of the genre… watch this space!

‘2:22 A Ghost Story’ is at Hull New Theatre until 18th May

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