More human than horror, 2:22 A Ghost Story harnesses the power of suggestion to serve up a satisfying synergy of supernatural intrigue and social commentary.
This tense but thoughtful play, which will be thrilling audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre all week, has set pulses racing meaningfully enough to become a global phenomenon since its premiere in 2021. It haunted five West End theatres in total, with record-breaking seasons and star casting at each, and there have also been productions in Los Angeles and Australia.
The overwhelmingly positive response to writer Danny Robins’ first ever play is understandable. Sharp writing and stellar acting bring a spirited relationship drama to life. Then spooky goings-on add to the laughs and suspense. As a theatregoer, you settle into your seat in the buzzing auditorium expecting to be scared. However, what really keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the show is witnessing – and experiencing – humanity’s burning desire to make sense of things.
Set in a suburban east London house, 2:22 A Ghost Story follows two couples during a dinner party and is a romp of a response to the decidedly divisive question, “do you believe in ghosts?”. New mum Jenny is convinced that the huge house she and her husband Sam are renovating is haunted. Relentlessly rational Sam, however, is having none of it. Those sounds Jenny hears coming from her baby daughter’s bedroom at 2:22 each morning? They can be explained away by logic and reason. Can’t they?
When Sam’s old friend Lauren and her new partner, Ben, are invited round for dinner, a lively debate erupts. As food is prepared and drinks are served (“red, white, beer, spirits?!”) all four characters delve into the past, reflect on the present and look to the future. Parenting is considered through the lens of fear – that primitive need to protect your offspring surely expedites a realisation of your own mortality – and the meaning of life is conversationally touched upon through references to mental health, class, religion, romance.
A digital clock flashes menacingly and a thrumming sound periodically intensifies as time creeps ever closer to 2:22. The character-driven story builds and builds. Tension mounts as tempers rise. And plot twists make you reconsider everything that came before.
Sparks fly and spooks feel feasible thanks to the credibility of the characters and the chemistry between the actors. Jenny (Louisa Lytton) is exhausted and afraid. She is constantly moving around the beautiful, Ikea-inspired, set – her nervous energy is captivating from the very first scene. Sam (Nathaniel Curtis), newly returned from a business trip, is, “I think you’ll find”, an incessant sceptic. Lauren (Charlene Boyd) is a pill-popping, drink-downing NHS psychiatrist who swings from believing to doubting – think of her as “Switzerland”. And Ben (Joe Absolom), an east-end born-and-bred builder who is not shy about sharing his interest in bathrooms and ghost hunting, is there to challenge Sam. Ben’s presence at this otherwise middle-class soiree sets up both laugh-out-loud and spine-chilling moments.
It is best to go to 2:22 A Ghost Story with an open mind and knowing as little as possible. Told in two pacy fifty-minute acts, this is an entertaining piece of theatre that takes you through a spectrum of emotions and leaves you pondering both poltergeist puzzles and existential questions.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, including an interval.
Age guidance: 12+
*Production photography by Johan Persson.
This review is also featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.