Review: 2:22 A Ghost Story, Criterion Theatre ★★★★☆

by Jim Keaveney.

With its third cast, Danny Robins’s 2:22 A Ghost Story proves there is still life in the production dealing with the afterlife. Its incarnations have relied on an element of ‘star’ casting; Lily Allen in her acting debut (earning herself an Olivier nomination), Eastender Jake Wood, I’m A Celebrity champion Giovanni Fletcher, Brooklyn 99 and Encanto’s Stephanie Beatriz, and Inbetweener James Buckley.

The new cast is no different. Again directed by Matthew Dunster, it features Tom Felton, famous for his portrayal of Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, and Mandip Gill, current Dr Who assistant and love interest. But it feels like a disservice to attribute their casting as being based on their ‘star’ status, given their accomplished turns as Sam and Jenny. It’s fair to say that Felton displays significant potential to follow Daniel Radcliffe, his Harry Potter co-star, into a serious thespian career.

Mandip Gill and Tom Felton. Photo: Johan Persson

Having recently bought a new home, Jenny begins hearing recurring sounds from her baby’s room at 2:22 am each night while her husband Sam is away. At a dinner party with their friend Lauren (Beatriz Romilly) and her new boyfriend Ben (Sam Swainsbury) on Sam’s return, Jenny convinces the group to stay until 2:22 am to see what happens for themselves.

2:22 A Ghost Story manages to avoid the pitfall of over-using jump scares in place of genuine tension – though the use of fox noises is overplayed and unbelievable (spoken with the experience of someone who has lived the urban-fox-laden Southwark). What the play does incredibly well is to slowly build tension, steadily ramping it up – creating goosebump-inducing chills in moments of pure silence. It is a credit to Dunster’s direction.

Mandip Gill, Sam Swainsbury and Beatriz Romilly. Photo: Johan Persson

As Jenny, Gill is the picture of a tired and overstretch mother, trying to balance home renovations with the challenge of a first child – the strain on her and her relationship with Sam is evident. Felton is incredibly watchable, embuing Sam with a smarmy unlikeability – his tone when using the word ‘mate’ when speaking to Ben is delivered in perfectly patronising style, clearly establishing that they are neither mates nor equals; something Ben is acutely aware – he is the bottom layer of a gentrified area where he feels he has been overtaken and overlooked by Asians, Albanians and now the middle classes. The only person with a greater fascination with the movements of the Albanian people is probably Liam Neeson.

Tom Felton. Photo: Johan Persson

Swainsbury is pitch-perfect in the role, delivering a realism to the character where there may have been a temptation to veer into farce. Romilly does well as the unrequited lover, though it is perhaps not always clear where her attraction for Sam comes from. Besides this, Robins’s text is fantastic with expertly drawn characters and a plot that sucks you in and refuses to let you go, managing to adapt standard ghost story and haunted house tropes for the 21st century. It may not be the scariest thing you’ll ever see but it will make your hairs stand on end, induce goosebumps, have you holding your breath, laugh with relief, and keep you fixed to the edge of your seat.

2:22 A Ghost Story is at the Criterion Theatre until 4 September

Jim Keaveney is the lead critic at The Understudy. He tweets occasionally from @understudyjim