Review: Scary Story Starring Lily Allen Is Schlocky Horror Show
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Anyone who has suffered through a middleclass dinner party will be having flashbacks during 2:22 A Ghost Story, Danny Robins's theatre debut starring another West End newcomer, Naughties popstrel Lily Allen.
All the common traits are here. The open plan kitchen where some over-exalted foreign dish is being prepared (in this case, risotto). The host couple (Allen’s schoolroom teacher Jenny and Hadley Fraser as her astronomer husband Sam) bickering about domestic matters. The guests (Julia Chan’s Lauren and her beau Ben played by Max Branning) blandly admiring the gentrified décor while getting a strong head start on the wine.
The conversation is standard fare too: shared experiences and new adventures dominate the chat before Jenny announces her recent traumatic experiences: while Sam has been on a trip abroad, she has been hearing phantom noises near her baby every night at exactly 2:22am. Sam, as the strident voice of science and reason, instantly dismisses his wife’s fears and puts them down to creaking floorboards, foxes and mice. Ben and Lauren are more sympathetic based on their own experiences. Together, they all agree to stay up until the early hours to see if the noises will return.
There’s no point saying much more about what happens next. For one thing, spoilers aren’t Londonist’s bag. But also, once we leave the second act behind, there’s little of note until the last few minutes beyond a few jump 'shocks' (including, after every act, some VERY LOUD SCREAMING and schlocky red neon stage border lights), a kooky séance, and plenty of heated debate around the subject of ghosts and the afterlife.
The cast themselves generally do well with a script knitted around well-worn gags and cliched melodrama. Allen’s performance is largely forgettable and, when not shouting, has trouble projecting her voice into the auditorium while Fraser plays his one-note smug pro-science character perfectly. As Lauren, the psychologist with a secret, Chan eloquently sits on the fence but it’s only Branning opposite her that deserves major praise for his acting. Sure, the former EastEnder is hardly stretching his range by playing a belligerent working-class cockney, but he truly invigorates a play that too often sinks into wordy quagmires.
One of the biggest faults with 2:22 A Ghost Story are that some of its themes are out of tune in these post-covid times. Nowadays, we are asked (quite rightly) to “follow the science”, yet, through the character of Sam, science is portrayed here as a hectoring voice which (quite wrongly) focuses exclusively on what should be happening at the expense of asking what could be.
Robins does know how to properly scare people through aural means — as shown by his brilliant Battersea Poltergeist podcast — but he has failed here to translate that talent to the theatre stage. This overlong and underwritten fireside tale is rarely truly scary or gripping, the schlocky effects bring the whole thing close to parody, and its dramatic structure pales in comparison to more multi-layered successes like The Woman in Black or Ghost Stories.
Among several unintentionally funny lines, Sam barks at one point that “this isn’t the Exorcist!”; truer words were never spoken.
2:22 A Ghost Story, Noel Coward Theatre. Until 16 October. Tickets £15-£125
Last Updated 23 August 2021