222 cast

George Rainsford as Sam and Fiona Wade as Jenny along with Vera Chok  as Lauren and Jay McGuiness as Ben, Pictures: Johan Persson

2:22 A Ghost Story

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Do you believe in ghosts? That’s the basic question posed by this intriguing and clever journey into the world of the unexplained, the world of spirits and lost souls.

Jenny and Sam have moved into an old house in London, bought from an old lady, recently widowed, who wants to sell it to a couple who will love and cherish and care for it as her and her late husband Frank had done for so many years . . .

So, Jenny and Sam immediately gutted it, ripped out walls and fittings and the old lady’s memories and gentrified it, all very IKEA and John Lewis, except set designer Anna Fleischle has left a tiny feature to create an uneasiness, a feeling all is not right.

In this perfect picture of trendy interior design we have two lights hanging from the ceiling with unmatched, different sized shades, a small point, an incongruous feature, but one that adds an element of unease, that things are not always as they seem.

And the unease grows as time goes on . . . on towards 2:22, which has become the witching hour.

Jenny and Sam are having a dinner party with Sam’s old friend from uni Lauren and her current boyfriend Ben.

Jobs are never really discussed but it seems Sam is some sort of astro physicist or astronomer and is writing a children’s book about the universe, Lauren is a therapist or something in mental health and Ben appears to be a builder from working class roots.

As for ghosts . . . Sam has been away on business and while he was away Jenny has had to deal with funny goings on in their new born daughter’s room each night at 2.22 – hence the title.

sam and jenny

Jenny and Sam

She believes it is ghosts. Ben, whose mother was a medium, and who was the subject of an exorcism as a child, is more than happy to go along with that, Lauren is . . . more a floating voter, floating mainly on her prodigious drinking, while Sam, I’m always right, Sam, sees everything in terms of a logical, scientific explanation.

Logic and the laws of nature preclude ghosts, the paranormal and even religion in Sam’s regimented and controlled way of thinking.

In a moment of solidarity, madness, curiosity, who knows, Ben and Lauren decide to stay to 2:22 to see what happens, and those waiting hours are the catalyst for the outwardly friendly foursome to start to turn on each other. Working class Ben, played with suitable surliness by Jay McGuiness, not only believes in ghost but believes he can communicate with them, holding a disturbing séance in Act 2, much to the annoyance of Sam – particularly when the table being used goes for him and we get a teddy bursting into flames. Explain that one, sunshine!

There is a mutual dislike between the rather privileged Sam and working class Ben which spreads beyond their being polar opposites on ghosts. There is Ben’s anger at the gentrification of his area and house price increases for starters and his ending up paying for the extra booze supplies  - chosen by Sam - is another point of contention.

George Rainford’s Sam, of course, is above all that, he’s right whatever anyone thinks, so everything anyone else thinks or believes is beneath him.

Lauren is another kettle of fish in the hands of Vera Chok. We are never quite sure where Lauren stands, or indeed how she stands after the amount of wine and Jack Daniels she sinks.

The drinking started it seems back in uni when she told Sam a frightening secret of a ghost and he just laughed at her. She had wanted them to be more than just friends . . . and he had just laughed at her. She poses him a problem he finds hard the explain.

Lauren and Ben

Lauren and Ben

And that leaves Fiona Wade as Jenny, who starts of as quite logical, worried about 2:22 and the safety of her young daughter, but within reason. As the night goes on she slowly becomes more frantic and angry with Sam and the world, convinced the house they have gutted and changed beyond recognition is haunted by Frank.

Sam finds it three against one on ghosts, Lauren and Ben have a relationship you feel is built on desperation on Lauren’s part, the pair hardly having much in common, while Jenny is slowly losing it and as the relationships break down the tension racks up.

Not that it is all angst and mental breakdown mind, there are quite a few laughs in there, mate, and a lovely line from Sam that having one child is like caring for a pet while having a second is like starting a zoo. Plenty of zookeepers in the audience probably agreed.

There are a few frighteners thrown in to make the audience jump, rather like boo to a child, which have little to do with the story but do keep everyone awake and on their toes, then we have the deafening screams of copulating foxes in the garden from time to time to give an unearthly feel to the affair.

Again, not part of the story, just another means of ratcheting up the tension as is the arrival of fog, which looks a little like a scene from Brief Encounter, and that staple of simmering apprehension, a touch of thunder.

Most of us enjoy being frightened, its what keeps rollercoasters and a whole movie genre in business, so the frighteners are a sort of bonus, something to give you a scare to be going on with, but this is no gruesome horror story, it is a ghost story, a different breed of terror played out in the mind with the growing feeling of dread growing with the electronic wall clock, slowly glowing its way to 2:22.

It is an evening of what if tales of ghosts and Sam’s attempts to explain them. Which side do we take? Is it Sam’s there must be an explanation or Ben and Jenny’s there can only be one explanation?

You will find out at 2:22. A slow start picks up in act two to reach a . . . timely climax. A pity, on Press night, some of the dialogue was lost which didn’t affect the story, just the delivery.

Danny Robins’ script is a multi-layered affair as he creates and dissects relationships old and new all leading to that 2:22 moment. Directed by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr the clock will be ticking at the Alex to 20-01-24.
Roger Clarke

2:22: A Ghost Story will be chilling Wolverhampton Grand 20-24 February, 2024


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