Against all expectations, a return visit to 2:22 A Ghost Story, now at the Criterion Theatre, is hugely effective, and not just because Sam Swainsbury is in the cast
“Are you going to piss on my chips, mate?”
Sometimes, there’s real value in going back to something. I wasn’t much of a fan of 2:22 A Ghost Story the first time I saw it. But an invitation to see its new cast (including the marvellous Sam Swainsbury) at the Criterion Theatre – the show’s third West End iteration – offered an intriguing to chance to look at the show anew, fore-armed with the knowledge of what was going to happen.
And second time proved the charm, as it becomes a different kind of viewing experience, one which I found to be much more satisfying. I’m generally not a fan of horror in theatre and I think I allowed that to colour my mind too much in advance of seeing the show first time around. But mentally reconceiving it as a mystery puzzle, it holds up extremely well on repeat viewing.
In age-old West End style, part of the commitment of seeing the show is a promise not to give any of the secrets away so I don’t really want to say too much more about it. What I can say is that I think Matthew Dunster’s production suits the intimacy of the Criterion better, there’s more of an atmosphere that is able to build up as Anna Fleischle’s clever design spills its surprises.
And the new cast are gelling well already. Fresh out of the TARDIS, Mandip Gill modulates Jenny’s growing hysteria into something believable as she struggles to convince her husband that something spooky is going on. Against her, Tom Felton’s science-minded Sam is entertainingly sceptical but he’s also coolly callous towards Sam Swainsbury’s excellent Ben, the working-class new partner of his old uni pal Lauren, a confident Beatriz Romilly.
And if you look at it, Danny Robins’ play is as much a dinner party play as it is a horror story, notes on gentrification sitting alongside notions of ghosts, with side helpings of religion, risotto and repression to help things along. If I ever admitted to such faults…I’d recommend going along and not being judgemental in advance, it’s time to believe…