With Stephen Mallratt’s production of The Woman In Black on tour and still scaring audiences, it is easy to forget how difficult it is to scare audiences when the thrills are coming from the stage.
For every The Turn of the Screw, there is a thrill-free misfire.
If you saw The Exorcist in theatres, you will have seen that even the iconic music by Mike Oldfield could not dial down the camp, which mustered up many laughs but rarely made you jump and drop your vino glass.
2:22 A Ghost Story’s Success
Then the pandemic happened and Danny Robins’ runaway success 2:22 A Ghost Story opened, as we were emerging from our homes, keen to see something live after spending what seemed like forever watching the gogglebox.
Lily Allen starred as a new mum, who kept hearing things go bump in the night and she made a dazzling stage debut.
The play then travelled across the West End, moving to many different theatres with new casts, including Girls Aloud’s Cheryl and Saturdays singer and Loose Woman, Frankie Bridge.
A Super Star Cast
It proved that you could create a buzz in a theatre and scare audiences, without the aid of big-budget effects.
If your story is strong and the sound design becomes another character, the audience will want to jump out of their skins.
This surprise success has meant that the show is now touring the UK, as theatregoers sit in their seats, wanting thrills, spills and jump scares.
And Louisa Lytton plays teacher Jenny, who is currently on maternity leave.
The opening resembles Abigail’s Party, as she and her husband Sam (Nathaniel Curtis) welcome dinner guests Lauren (Charlene Boyd) and Ben (Joe Absolom) and we watch and cringe, as the two men clash.
Sam is intelligent but prone to mansplaining and his favourite phrase is: “I think you’ll find.” Jenny is open about the fact she believes there is another uninvited guest in their new house.
Sam puts this down the noisy local foxes who visit the garden in the dead of the night.
Lauren is an old University friend of Sam’s and she brings her new partner Ben along, and the two men are complete opposites. What’s more, Ben believes in ghosts which means he starts to connect with Jenny.
First Half is a crowd-pleaser
The first half of this crowd-pleaser is fast-paced and does exactly what you want from a ghost story.
It builds momentum and the original director Matthew Dunster, knows how to create tension.
Isobel Marr is on directing duties here and she has stuck to the formula that has made this play such a soaraway success.
Ian Dickinson’s sound design is similar to The Woman in Black, as pivotal scenes are punctuated by screams.
People all around me jump out of their seats every time this happens.
And like the best scares, they giggle afterwards to underplay the impact and make out they are not frightened.
What Genre is 2:22 A Ghost Story?
2:22 A Ghost Story is not a horror play.
It has characters with genuine dilemmas, yet they find themselves in a house, where something is not quite right.
Is it paranoia, are they being set up, or is there more than a person in a white sheet with eye holes, wandering around and bumping into the new Ikea furniture?
With a concise 2 hours run time, including the interval, you will have fun working through the Scooby Doo plot developments.
Incredible Set Design
Anna Fleischle’s detailed set design is excellent, as you can see outside and this means there are a few jump moments because you can see something in the distance. But the Lyric stage does swamp the set, so I would avoid sitting on the sides of the stalls. Aim for the middle sections, if you can.
The second half does drag slightly, as we repeat plot points which have already been covered in Act One.
And after a while, you may tire of hearing another ghost story, when you just want to focus on this one.
Nathaniel Curtis has a great stage presence as Sam, and he knows how to deliver a funny line and make it land effectively.
It is great to see him in this role, following the intensity of the brilliant It’s a Sin, as he is having fun.
Louisa Lytton is also excellent, and Jenny is no wallflower and Lytton imbues her with inner strength and a knowing sense of self.
Joe Absolom underplays which means that Ben is not a caricature, he is a man who is threatened by Sam’s intelligence and social class, far more than a ghost.
Charlene Boyd has some great scenes as Lauren, as she gets to explore many different emotions, and she brings more than is on the page, which again means that this character has more depth to her, thanks to her great delivery and beautiful body language.
As you wait for the denouement, some will have seen it coming.
Others will be shocked and then work backwards and then say they saw it coming.
Whatever you think, it will get you talking.
If you fancy some ghostbusting this week, to quote Ray Parker Jr. “Who you gonna call?” The answer is The Lowry.
2:22 A Ghost Story is at the Lowry until 4th November and can be booked here.