Contemporary new ghost story, 2.22, comes to The Alhambra where Leo Owen caught the show

Although William Shakespeare famously dabbled with the supernatural, tales of horror are still scarce on the stage. Successful theatrical ghost stories seem to favour historic settings, making Danny Robins’ new play especially noteworthy. Robins is known for The Battersea Poltergeist that has been heralded the top global drama podcast, prompting a Hollywood bidding war for the rights.

2.22 marks Robins’ West End debut, strikingly opening in a contemporary setting as new mum, Jenny, (Fiona Wade) decorates her kitchen diner. Preparing for the arrival of dinner guests, her baby monitor crackles and gurgles in the background as new-born, Phoebe, slumbers. Returning from a work trip, her husband, Sam (George Rainsford) greets old university friend, Lauren (Vera Chok), and her new boyfriend, Ben (Jay McGuiness). What follows is a truly disastrous dinner party.

A red digital clock races through time both before and during the play, cleverly heightening the tension after we discover footsteps and a man crying have been heard in the nursery at precisely 02.22 on consecutive nights. Robins turns the whodunit on its head after Phoebe’s teddy bear is discovered drenched in white spirit and his characters embark on a dangerous quest, sitting vigil until 02.22. Sam, the sceptic is quizzed by his more open-minded wife and guests, prompting some interesting and lightly comic theorising as to why ghosts haunt specific spots and are always seen clothed.

Robins’ characters are convincingly-written, pitting Sam as the villain, judgemental and curt, dominating talk with the unpleasant sarcastic quips he fires out. University bestie, Lauren, works in mental health, downing drinks and pill-popping on the sly, amidst very astute observations. Meanwhile Ben, is perhaps the most endearing, enduring Sam’s mockery after he reveals he believes he’s been reincarnated and previously lived during the French Revolution. Sam’s class and scientific background make Ben the perfect foil, as someone with experiences of seances and exorcism who originally heralded from the neighbourhood before its regeneration.

Director, Matthew Dunster, provides plenty of jumps by suddenly going to black to punctuate time shifts with a garish neon red light framing the stage. Additional accompanying scream sound effects become increasingly comical through the production, putting the audience in a state of nervous hilarity, in keeping with Robins’ script that’s heavily peppered with humour, the best perhaps achieved courtesy of Alexa’s misunderstandings. Ian Dickinson’s sound complements this nicely, moving between manic electronica and brooding Massive Attack tracks.

Robins has clearly studied his genre, including motion sensitive lights, fox screams and stormy weather to intensify the already unnerving atmosphere. His sharp dialogue ricochets between characters as the tension mounts and relationships derail. 2.22 is sure to be a hit, filling a theatrical void like his “ghosts fill the gaps”. Although a final jump scream makes a mockery of what should have been a poignant end, audiences are in for a treat and a Hollywood adaptation is likely to ensue.

2.22 showed at The Alhambra from May 28th-June 1st before continuing its UK tour: