A 152-year-old theater is sure to have ghosts hanging around. Unless you don’t believe in them, and that’s the crux of 2:22 A Ghost Story; it’s about the battle between the reality of ghosts or a necessary myth that some people need to help them come to terms with death, writes Michael Holland.
An old Victorian house in East London is being renovated by the couple who bought it from an elderly lady who had lived there for many years. Jenny, the wife, starts hearing strange noises every night at 2:22 a.m. in their baby’s room. She’s a non-believer, as is her husband, Sam, so she tries to get to the bottom of it by standing in the room at 2:22. The sound of footsteps reveals that there is definitely an invisible person walking around the baby’s bed. She tells this to Sam when he comes back from a business trip and he laughs it off.
Friends Lauren and Ben are there for dinner and drinks and are told the odd story. Lauren, like Sam, is unconvinced, but Ben grew up in a home where ghosts were not only believed but seemingly understood.
What follows is a night of secrets and lies, tricks and truth, all fueled by alcohol. This intoxicating concoction tricks Jenny and Lauren into believing in the supernatural after playing a ghost quiz game and recounting past ghostly experiences they hadn’t previously shared for fear of ridicule. Now they decide, it’s time to tell them.
With cliched tropes of thunder and lightning, fog and unearthly noises thrown in, and the cries of mating foxes, you’ve got everything you need to startle an audience at just the right time.
The second act takes Scary to another level when they decide having a seance is a good idea. There are breakups and make-ups as the quartet turn around, then more screams and screams help us to a rather neat ending at 2:22.
Writer Danny Robins grew up in a household that knew there was no God, Santa or unicorns, but he became fascinated with ghosts. He’s read books, watched horror movies, and done enough research on the subject to form a theory that humans must believe in something else instead of just ceasing to exist at the end of their lives. .
His play raises questions: if clothes can’t “die”, why are ghosts never naked? Why don’t ghosts appear at the bus stop or Tesco checkout? It also explains why we feel cold when we are afraid and why our hair stands on end when we shiver with fear.
The house and its former occupants is a metaphor for the end of life and a new life that takes over. Old layers of paint and wallpaper are the ghosts of the past. Local boy Ben talks about the gentrification of his area as people like Sam move in and get rid of all traces of people like him. Ben is a remnant of the past that “haunts” newcomers and their new habits.
2:22 In Ghost Story, it’s the writer who puts his research and his theories on stage and in the mouths of the actors. He puts believers and doubters in the ring to fight and then declares his winner. The play will not convince believers that it is stupid to believe or make non-believers suddenly believe in ghosts. What it does do is give you a great evening of laughs and shocks with a great cast.
Criterion Theatre, 218-223 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9HR until September 4. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 7:30 p.m. Matinees Sat & Sun 2 p.m. Admission: £20 – £95.