One of the London stage hits of the immediate post-pandemic period, 2.22 A Ghost Story, opened yesterday with a big Gala Night in its new home.
The big attraction on this occasion is the West End debut of Cheryl (her name now a simple mononym rather than the Tweedy she once was as one-fifth of pop band Girls Aloud).
So, as we pass flashbulbs popping as the recognisable faces walk the red carpet outside the Lyric, the first thought has to be about her. Will she convince in this creepy and chilling play?
Let’s talk about 2.22 A Ghost Story as a whole first. This is my first viewing, so no preconceptions and no forewarning – the ending is as closely guarded as The Mousetrap and rightly so.
It relies on jump scares, shrill voices, and a baby monitor during a night of drinking between two couples. With one set and deceptively single staging, this show is set to fire up its audience.
Jenny (Cheryl), a new mother whose scientist husband even tried to mansplain childbirth to her, has been hearing strange noises at 2.22am for a few days.
Alone in a new house with mating foxes screeching outside and the signs of a hasty modern makeover of a house dripping with history, Jenny wants answers and witnesses.
Enter Lauren (Louise Ford), a psychoanalyst, and her new builder boyfriend Ben (Jake Wood), staunchly working-class. They join Jenny and Sam (Scott Karim) for a night’s boozing and bitching while the clock ticks down.
So, how does Cheryl’s Jenny come across? Using her regional accent, she takes a little time to grow into the role but is eerily convincing as a warrior mum who will do anything to protect her baby daughter later on.
She also displays a chemistry with Karim’s Sam, which displays a fraught but still loving marriage in shorthand. It’s a complex leading role that requires a lot of emotional and physical energy. I left rather impressed.
Elsewhere, with Wood’s return to the cast (replacing a poorly Hugo Chegwin), we have a masterclass in a part that starts out funny but has hidden depths.
These are the people forced out through creeping gentrification (“but we are still here, in the house”), but happy to fix boilers and redo bathrooms.
Lauren is the typically unhappy single lady in early middle age, played well by Ford, while Karim’s Sam is fascinating in his aspirational awfulness.
Writer Danny Robins, director Matthew Dunster, and designers Anna Fleischle (set), Lucy Carter (lighting), and Ian Dickinson (sound), with Chris Fisher’s illusions give this ghost story a constant, building tension.
A surprising and enjoyable night out: just don’t tell! And spare a thought for poor Mr Teddy, roundly abused every performance!
2.22 A Ghost Story is currently showing at the Lyric Theatre until 23 Apr – tickets and information on the show website.
Image credit: Helen Murray