Review: 2:22 A Ghost Story at The Lyceum, Sheffield

‘Shhh… please don’t tell’ flickers the digital-clock projection at the end of 2:22 A Ghost Story – a spooky play, with a screamer of a twist, at the Lyceum in Sheffield until Saturday.
Fiona Wade (Jenny), Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren). Photos: Johan PerssonFiona Wade (Jenny), Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren). Photos: Johan Persson
Fiona Wade (Jenny), Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren). Photos: Johan Persson

Invoking the tradition of The Mousetrap, with classic An Inspector Calls vibes, fizzing with Sixth Sense and One Day echoes, the play implores the audience to keep the secret of its deathly denouement to themselves.

But you’re going to need someone to talk to about it afterwards, as you unpick the clues, discard the red herrings, and remember with dawning realisation the dead giveaways that were interspersed as incidentals all along, from the start of this cleverly-written and thought-provoking supernatural show.

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The award-winning play, penned by paranormal podcaster Danny Robins, opened on the West End in 2021 and has featured singers Lily Allen and Cheryl Cole in its lead roles since.

Fiona Wade (Jenny) and Vera Chok (Lauren)Fiona Wade (Jenny) and Vera Chok (Lauren)
Fiona Wade (Jenny) and Vera Chok (Lauren)

Now, for the UK tour, Jay McGuiness from boyband The Wanted takes on one of the main parts, and he’s far and away the standout talent in a tight cast of four. Whilst the three other actors – Fiona Wade from Emmerdale, George Rainsford from Casualty, and Vera Chok from Hollyoaks – speak their lines with theatricality, his natural delivery and likeable charm not only make him wonderfully watchable but also serve to highlight the differences between his character Ben’s working class roots and the others’ gentrified pretentions.

Teacher Jenny is a hormonal new mum also coping with the renovation of her East End home, and she’s sleep-deprived, emotional, and longing to feel her old self again. Smug, self-satisfied husband Sam is finally home from a work trip and straight back into boasting, mansplaining, and belittling his wife when she confesses she worries their new house is haunted. For the past few nights, at exactly 2:22am, she’s been hearing footsteps pacing the floorboards of their baby’s room, and last night the sound of crying.

Old friend Lauren and her new boyfriend Ben have been invited for a couples’ dinner and end up staying until the early hours after Jenny persuades them to witness the weird 2:22 goings-on for themselves – and prove to Sam she isn’t going crazy.

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Lauren, a mental health worker who thinks “everyone is crazy”, has had an experience that can’t be explained once before. Ben, for all his down-to-earth, rugged plumber’s practicality, was brought up by a mum who believed in seances to commune with the dead and feels he has lived before – much to the condescending derision of Sam.

Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren), Fiona Wade (Jenny) and George Rainsford (Sam)Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren), Fiona Wade (Jenny) and George Rainsford (Sam)
Jay McGuiness (Ben), Vera Chok (Lauren), Fiona Wade (Jenny) and George Rainsford (Sam)

And so together, against a deep one-room set for the home’s modern open plan kitchen/diner, the strains of Angel by Massive Attack on the dinner party playlist, and a script packed with witty, funny dialogue, they set out to prove or disprove whether ghosts really do exist.

The jumps come less from the action and more thanks to jolts of the red neon lighting that frames the stage, and the shrill screams of foxes plaguing the couple’s foggy London garden. The numbers on the digital clock race ahead, or keep time, adding to the unsettling unease.

But the play is as much a detective and love story as it is a ghost story, with some social commentary thrown in, and it’s McGuiness who gets to deliver the most chilling speech of the play. His character Ben was brought up in the same area of London, before the rich folk moved in and priced the locals out, and when he talks about wealthy couples gutting old properties, smugly fitting their bifold doors and Alexa-activated dimmable lighting, sweeping away all traces of the past, he acts as a living echo of the area’s lost history.

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But the real lingering spectre is the one that stays with you after the play ends, and keeps you thinking about the poignant plot pointers that were there all along.

  • 2:22 - A Ghost Story is at The Lyceum, Sheffield, until Saturday, February 17
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