Review: 2:22 - A GHOST STORY, Apollo Theatre

The new cast have proved themselves more than capable of carrying this West End hit in its latest run

By: May. 31, 2023
Review: 2:22 - A GHOST STORY, Apollo Theatre
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Review: 2:22 - A GHOST STORY, Apollo Theatre Almost two years after it first premiered, Danny Robins’ domestic ghost story has turned into a well-oiled West End machine, working its way through various casts and venues.

Having previously featured the likes of Cheryl, Lily Allen and Laura Whitmore, this latest incarnation of 2:22 - A Ghost Story at the Apollo Theatre is not quite so star-studded, which is by no means a criticism. Rather, this new cast is an outstanding and coordinated ensemble, who bring Robins’ script to life in a pitch-perfect production.

The play is a sharp four-hander between two couples: mild Jenny and her know-it-all husband Sam have invited his old university friend Lauren and her new partner, Ben, for dinner.

Jaime Winstone is immediately likeable as Jenny, a worn-out new mother who feels increasingly smothered by Sam’s larger than life personality. Her performance is well balanced, only raising her voice at select moments until she emerges as a truly forceful character during the climax of the story. She is a great foil to Clifford Samuel’s self-assured Sam, who holds court at the dinner party by dismissing his guests with witty put-downs. Crucially, Samuel injects his relatively dislikeable character with an element of vulnerability, which proves increasingly vital as the story progresses.

Sophia Bush and Ricky Champ are both outstanding as Lauren and Ben. Bush plays the role in her own American accent, which furthers the contrast between her slick, no-nonsense persona and the cosier figure cut by Winstone's Jenny. She gives a lively, witty and energetic performance, dancing drunkenly about the stage and at one point earning a round of applause for a glorious moment of one-upmanship over Sam. One initially assumes that Ben, the builder boyfriend to whom clever Lauren seems utterly unsuited, is a relatively flat persona – indeed, Sam and Jenny think so too – but Champ masterfully delivers a complex character. He quickly moves beyond the archetype to portray a nuanced and sensitive individual, but is still able to earn laughter in all the right places.

The production, directed by Matthew Dunster, is genuinely tense. The subtitle A Ghost Story could suggest jump-scares and potentially even horror, but instead the show finds its drama in several slow and terrifying periods of building up tension (I spent much of the second act clinging to my friend’s arm). Ian Dickinson’s sound design keeps the audience on edge: drawn-out, sinister music plays under seemingly innocuous sections of dialogue, preparing us for a jump-scare at any moment. The scene changes are punctuated with screams, which made me flinch more times than I’d care to admit.

Suspense continues to build visually, too. Anna Fleischle’s atmospheric set design is that of an old house in the middle of a complete overhaul, with mismatched wallpaper, unfinished painting and a pair of glass double doors at the back of the stage, which seem to promise an unwelcome visitor at any moment. Two digital clocks prominently display the time throughout, which both helps us to keep track of the action and inches the story ever-closer to the potentially fateful moment of 2:22am. This impression is well-supported by an eerie lighting design created by Lucy Carter, who plays around with low lights, total blackness and a harsh, red band of light that borders the whole stage. Cindy Lin’s costumes are relatively simple but effective, and reveal something about the various dispositions of each character.

At its heart, Robins’s play is a relatively traditional ghost story with a clever twist ending (audiences are asked to keep it to themselves after the show, and rightly so). What sustains the performance for two hours, however, are the elements of conflict between its characters, which play out across contemporary issues of class and gender. Much of the drama bears limited significance to, or is only exacerbated by, the idea of ghosts and haunting, which keeps the audience engaged in the characters rather than just waiting for the next scare. Robins provides a clever, unexpected and satisfying conclusion, which shocks the audience initially then prompts countless conversations on the way home as we piece together the whole story.

2:22 – A Ghost Story has been doing the rounds for a while now, but is still able to inspire shock, horror and plenty of nervous laughter. The new cast has proved to be more than capable of carrying this West End hit in its latest run, and their take on such a funny, well-crafted and genuinely eerie play is well worth a watch.

2:22 - A Ghost Story runs at the Apollo Theatre until 17 September

Photo credit: Helen Murray


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