2:22 A Ghost Story review – Cheryl makes her West End debut, but does she show promise?
Spooky! Yes yes yes
Something kinda woooooo – Cheryl has made her West End debut. And not in a musical, but a ghostly, shock-laden, four-hander thriller.
In a multi-WhatsOnStage Award-winning production that, four stagings in, has now earned a reputation for its unexpected and starry casting, the Girls Aloud star takes to the stage at the Lyric Theatre. The question remains – does she show promise?
The premise is relatively simple – a new mother, Jenny (Cheryl) has been hearing eery, unexplainable noises in her daughter's bedroom at the same time every night – the titular 02:22. With frantic determination, she orchestrates a dinner party, inviting Lauren (Louise Ford), the best friend of her dry, know-it-all husband Sam (Scott Karim) and Lauren's new boyfriend (an ebullient WhatsOnStage Award-winner Jake Wood, returning to the role following a cast drop-out) to stay in the house late into the night in order to discover the truth about a potentially ethereal presence.
Kudos has to go to director Matthew Dunster - creating a taut, snappy, audience-friendly pace that coils Danny Robins' script like a spring, letting it bounce loose with unexpected anarchy at various intervals.
Robins' script is almost purpose-built for the Netflix binge-watch generation – fleet scenes give way to punchy set changes, during which the audience excitedly bursts into frantic discussion and debate while red neon light swamps the auditorium. Twenty seconds of chatter later we're back tucking into another episode, time once more ticking down to the fateful hour on a digital clock in the corner of the stage.
Robins delves into some surprisingly rich themes: the paranoia associated with raising a newborn ("I challenge anyone to be a new parent and not be perpetually terrified", Sam reflects), the cultural significance of the supernatural or the role of faith in a largely atheist household. While the overly-indulgent number of frisky, sex-crazed fox sound effects can grow a bit wearisome, the show is laden with neat and often impressively subtle nods towards seismic twists – a return visit is almost as rewarding as a maiden voyage.
Design-wise, Anna Fleischle pitches Jenny and Sam's mid-renovation abode like some sort of transient space – caught with liminal precarity between Ikea showroom and forlorn tribute to ‘70s decor. It's a neat way of putting the audience on edge – Jenny's own unrest seeps into the unfinished aesthetic of her kitchen-diner. Mismatched lampshades hover like unwanted guests.
Dunster knows how to tease assured, well-pitched performances out of his cast. Karim's domineering Sam, the smug cynic, butts heads with Wood's cockney clairvoyant builder Ben over issues of gentrification, science, religion and belief, neatly peppered into what could otherwise be a bland affair. Ford, sometimes slightly one-note as a disillusioned alcoholic, brings a frantic chaos as she agonises over a fleeting former romance.
As for Cheryl, it's safe to say she puts in an assured debut – sure, sometimes intonation wavers, while her angry outburst can occasionally feel unexpected and one-note (then again, so do most outbursts from those suffering from sleep-deprivation). For the most part, it'll be a turn that few critics will find major fault with.
If this is the result when casting a "personality" brings bums to seats during a time when theatres need all the help they can get, then fair play – it's clearly a gambit that's working.