2:22 Ghost Story
You can't always blame the foxes
This ground breaking, award winning production, written by broadcaster, performer and podcaster Danny Robins, is playing at Newcastle Theatre Royal, scaring and delighting audiences in equal amounts.
Set in the modern day but with more than a passing nod to the tradition of ghost stories through the ages, Robins gives us every element of the spooky supernatural, all wrapped up in a play which could easily stand next to Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party as an expose of the human condition, relationships and inner fears.
In their newly renovated London house, instantly recognisable yet familiarly bland, new mum Jenny (Louisa Lytton – Eastenders, Edge of Heaven, finalist on BBCs Strictly) is battling with something not quite of this world. For the past few nights, at precisely 2:22 she has felt (and heard) a presence in her infant daughter’s bedroom – noises, footsteps, a man sobbing. Her fear is compounded by the fact that husband Sam (Nathaniel Curtis – It’s a Sin, The Witcher) has been away on the isle of Stark stargazing, leaving her all alone to deal with this additional houseguest.
Sam’s return home coincides with the visit of his lifelong friend Lauren (Charlene Boyd – Mayflies, River City, Annika) and her current boyfriend Ben (Joe Absolom recently seen in the amazing Shawshank Redemption) who have come to enjoy the evening and catch up on old times. The dynamic of the 4 quickly descends into a sense of believers and sceptics as Jenny explains the recent disturbances, much to the growing annoyance of Sam who feels that everything in life has a scientific and logical explanation.
As mentioned earlier, the way the four play off each other has palpable similarity to Abigail’s Party; Sam and Ben jostle with male ego with Sam desperate to the enforce his self-believed elite intelligence and Ben countering this with a more practical understanding of the world. Jenny remains the fearful new mum, desperate for Sam to accept what is happening as real, but with each blunt dismissal she slowly peels a layer away from her ‘perfect’ life, revealing a more independent and determined woman below and questioning whether her and Sam are really the best match. Lauren proceeds to get drunk; merrily at first but then more cynically, challenging Sam around both his absolute believe to be always right and his inability to see she has held deep feelings for him since university.
As the night progresses Jenny becomes more determined to keep her child save, refusing to allow her to sleep in the room from which the nightly sounds emanate, Sam on the other hand becomes even more obstinate that she is just over-tired and in fact the nursery MUST be the place in which to leave their daughter. Determined to prove once and for all Sam does not know everything, Jenny both insists that Ben and Lauren remain in the house until the fated 2:22 am, but that Ben, who now confesses that his mother was a medium who used to hold seances, helps her to contact the spirit (actually believing it could be the ghost of the past owner, unhappy with the changes that Sam has made to their house). From here things take deeper and more sinister turns cumulating in a climax which left the whole audience stunned into collective silence. No spoilers here but by the excited talking on the way out it is clear this will grab anyone who dares to go and see it.
Set designer Anna Fleischle has produced a wonderful set; the open plan lounge/diner has large patio doors and skylights providing ample opportunity for clever lighting effects designed to just catch the eye which, when interspersed with some jump shocks and off stage sounds, keep you drawn tightly into the action. Chris Fisher, a member of the Magic Circle and Magic Associate for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, ensures that there are enough illusions to add an unnerving uncertainty without it becoming a ‘magic show’.
If you like the supernatural, the sense of uncertainty, exploring the human psyche and relationships and are prepared to be left scared then this is certainly the show for you – just remember, you can’t always blame the foxes.
An extra word for the programme by John Good Ltd, a wonderful accompaniment containing an interesting history of ghost stories, a great interview with the writer and ideas for 7 more theatrical spooky tales.