REVIEW: 2:22 A Ghost Story - genuine chills on the Chichester stage

2:22 A Ghost Story by Danny Robins, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday, February 10.
2:22 A Ghost Story (pic by Johan Persson)2:22 A Ghost Story (pic by Johan Persson)
2:22 A Ghost Story (pic by Johan Persson)

2:22 A Ghost Story is a remarkable theatrical experience when you see it for the first time. It turns out it’s an equally remarkable experience when you see it for the second. Of course, you will just slightly envy all those who’ve never been twisted and turned by it before, but equally there is great fun in sitting there smugly muttering to yourself “Right, I am going see if this show actually plays fair with its audiences!” The only conclusion is that it does – and that’s a huge part of its brilliance. There are maybe a few clues that you might just pick up, but even knowing what you know, you’ll be dragged into Danny Robins’ rollercoaster ride.

With a completely new cast since its visit to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre last autumn, 2:22 A Ghost Story isn’t just a tale of things that go bump in the night. More interestingly, it’s about whether we believe in them – and if we do, then why; and if we don’t, then why not.

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The gist is that Jenny believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam is adamant it isn’t. He confronts her absolute conviction (she’s been there, she knows) with his total, rather bullying scepticism (she’s talking rubbish). She feels threatened and vulnerable; he piles up all the arguments that his scientific training can give him. There is zero chance of them meeting in the middle.

An old university friend of Sam’s plus her new boyfriend are there for dinner – and the sparks fly. Increasingly strange things happen as rationalism and doubt clash thrillingly. With an on-stage clock counting down to 2:22, directors Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr ratchet up the tension superbly, and the excellent new cast does the rest. Jay McGuiness, Fiona Wade, George Rainsford and Vera Chok play it with pace, skill and absolute conviction. There is huge fluency to the dialogue. Some of the jump scares are possibly a little cheap, but the night is massively entertaining, increasingly intriguing, effectively creepy, so cleverly done and wrong-foots you beautifully. But, as the play itself says “Shhhh, don’t tell!”