The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Review: 2:22 A Ghost Story at Sunderland Empire

With a sharp and funny script, real jump scares and a killer twist, Danny Robins’ unsettling play is definitely worth staying up past your bedtime for, says Maggie Barksby
Right to left: Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren), George Rainsford (Sam), Fiona Wade (Jenny) in 2:22 A Ghost Story

Three years after its West End premiere, 2:22 A Ghost Story is still thrilling audiences – becoming famous for its headline-catching (and very successful) casting choices including Lily Allen and the North East’s very own Cheryl… and for its slam dunk twist of an ending.

A long UK tour has meant the rest of the country has been able to find out what all the fuss is about.

Last autumn, the production haunted Newcastle Theatre Royal. This week, the latest cast are bringing the chill factor to Sunderland Empire.

The story takes place in the new home of husband-and-wife Sam (Casualty‘s George Rainford) and Jenny (Emmerdale’s Fiona Wade), which Jenny is starting to suspect may be haunted. Windows open mysteriously, their child’s toys pop up in unexpected places and the baby monitor seems have a nightly direct line into Spooky Hits Radio at exactly the same wee small hours moment.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – 2.22am.

A dinner party is decided as the best course of action by Jenny, so she invites Sam’s old college friend Lauren (Hollyoaks‘ Vera Chok) and her new plumber-turned-live-in-partner Ben (played by understudy Aaron Dart who was standing in for The Wanted’s Jay McGuinness) round for an evening of food, wine and a sprinkling of the occult.

Reviewing this production is a spoiler-laden minefield, so I’m going to say little more about the plot. Suffice to say a wave of the paranormal and a (very) unexpected turn of events leaves us in no doubt that nothing is as it seems by 2.22am.

The first half of the play is more dark comedy than ghost story… although Danny Robins’ sharp, tight and funny script is peppered with very effective jump scares.

After the interval the spooky dial is turned up considerably as the wine continues to flow (on stage) and I’ll admit some of the unfolding action had to be watched through fingers.

The cast are all on good form. It was great to see George Rainford as the self-assured, scientific and pretty smug cynic Sam, while Fiona Wade is convincingly fragile-but-protective as new mother Jenny.

Newcastle-bred Robins’ script does a fine job of keeping the story moving as two hours of twists and shocks reveal themselves – some ghostly, some much closer to home for the characters – and the production values are terrific throughout.

My nerves may need a recharge, but it was totally worth it.

2:22 A Ghost Story is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday (May 25). Visit the website for tickets.

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