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2:22 – A Ghost Story

  • Theatre, Drama
  • Gielgud Theatre, Soho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
2:22 – A Ghost Story, Lyric Theatre, 2023, Cheryl
Photo: Helen Murray

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The smash hit West End chiller soldiers on with its sixth cast

This is a March 2023 review of the fifth cast of ‘2:22’. In May 2024, ‘2:22’ will return to the West End yet again for what we think is its seventh cast, for a limited run starring Stacey Dooley, James Buckley, Donna Air and Joe McFadden.

Danny Robins’s ‘2:22’ is a bona fide West End phenomenon. It started life in the summer of 2021 as a novelty: a four-hander ghost story from the writer of the hit podcast series ‘The Battersea Poltergeist’, deployed to plug the programming gap at the Noël Coward Theatre while the musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ was waiting to come back post-pandemic. And Matthew Dunster’s production originally starred singer Lily Allen – an unexpected bit of casting, but not an outlandish one, given she sincerely seems to be making a move into acting.

That was just the beginning, though. Since then it’s played another four West End seasons, and while I’m sure good word of mouth and the scarcity of supernatural Theatreland thrillers have played a part, it’s pretty clear that its audience has been expanded via the medium of increasingly wild casting. Last year we had stage debuts from Tom Felton – aka Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy – and Laura ‘Love Island’ Whitmore. And this year we’re being treated to the inaugural acting performance from Cheryl, the erstwhile Girls Aloud star who seems to have left the concept of a surname somewhere in the rubble of her endlessly documented recent past. 

It’s a fascinating concept: presumably if the producers can keep luring in big names with discrete fandoms, there’s no real reason it can’t carry on more or less indefinitely. The four roles in the play are about the same size as each other: it’s malleable enough that you could find a space to cast pretty much anyone of any race, gender or nationality in it provided they were under the age of 50 or so.

Anyway: Cheryl! 

Can she act? 

The bottom line is she can act enough. 

The role of Jenny, a stressed-out new mum convinced that her fixer-upper is haunted by an entity that tramps around her daughter’s room at 2:22 every morning, is not exactly Hedda Gabler. You can kind of play it as yourself: Cheryl’s Jenny sounds exactly like Cheryl and has a gentle demeanor that occasionally erupts into shouty rage; Allen’s was posher, colder and more forceful. 

But at the end of the day acting skills are required: this isn’t an inept or embarrassing performance from Cheryl. She struggles to project times, and the shouty bits feel a bit forced. But she nails her lines, has good comic timing, and generally does her bit supporting the architecture of Robins’s play. If you are a mad keen Cheryl fan desperate to see her in a thing so long as she doesn't embarrass herself, you won’t be disappointed.

But it’s definitely not a show-stopping turn, and your enjoyment of the night will definitely hinge on how much you enjoy the actual play. ‘2:22’ is essentially a drama about a middle-class dinner party that Jenny and her insufferable know-it-all husband Sam (Scott Karim) are throwing for his old friend Lauren (Louise Ford), and her very un-middle-class new builder beau Ben (Jake Wood, returning from the original cast)

Saying anything much about what happens is liable to lead to a spoiler. But in general terms Robins has written a solidly entertaining drama about a tense dinner party that’s underpinned by musings on class, identity and ghosts. It’s somewhat cliche bound, especially in the clash between the aggressively cerebral Sam and the salt-of-the-earth Ben. But it does all pay off, and it does a smart line in red herrings.

When I first saw it I was probably feeling a bit more forgiving of its clunkier moments generally (the theatres had only just reopened after all). It had a really great Sam in the form of Hadley Fraser. And I didn’t know how the story ended (it’s quite an ending!). On a second viewing, it feels stodgier and more schematic, and Karim lacks Fraser’s nuance in a not-very subtly written role. The returning Wood is terrific and Ford is good as the boozy, wounded Lauren. The ending still delivers on a repeat view. But it would be pushing it to say it was a classic play, and its longevity increasingly feels like a triumph of casting over anything else. 

And why not? She may not give a life-changing turn, but it’s fun to see Cheryl onstage. Certainly it’ll get a different audience in. Hopefully she’s having a nice time. Probably she’ll encourage more big names to come. Perhaps in the future we’ll all be in ‘2:22’ for 15 minutes.


Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


Gielgud Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue
Rail/Tube: Charing Cross; Tube: Piccadilly Circus
£15-£125. Runs 2hr 30min

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