Do you believe in ghosts? Keep an open mind and uncover the truth in 2:22 A Ghost Story – a supernatural thriller play that’s transformed Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre into the innards of a potentially haunted house. Belief and skepticism clash when Jenny (Gemma Ward) senses a strange presence in her home, but her husband Sam (Remy Hii) isn’t buying into the hysteria. When their guests, Ben (Daniel MacPherson) and Lauren (Ruby Rose), arrive for dinner, they collectively decide to stay awake til 2:22 to find out what’s really going on.
Following successful runs in London’s West End, 2:22 A Ghost Story has brought spine-chilling thrills and jump scares aplenty down-under. Written by Danny Robbins, the production won Best New Play at the WhatsOnStage awards and has quickly become a must-see phenomenon, garnering critical acclaim across the board.
From the get-go, 2:22 A Ghost Story instills a sense of unease in its audience. It establishes an eerie, ominous atmosphere before jumping right into the narrative setup and character introductions. Much of the first act is centred around acquainting us with the various relationships at play – some characters have history, some despise each other, and all of them clash in terms of their views on the paranormal.
It’s slow-moving, but paced very intently to build tension through dialogue, all while weaving in moments of foreshadowing and red herrings. The plus side to all of this setup is that once the production is over it’s great to think about how big moments in the story are cleverly teased way earlier. The downside in this case is that during the show, these moments don’t add much substance to the story. They’re not moments that leave you wondering, they’re just inconsequential details until they’re not… which is a little less rewarding.
Part of why the dialogue is so engaging at times is due to the incredible use of blocking and staging. The way the characters move around the set while conversing is expertly orchestrated. Theoretically, all of the conversations could be had with our characters planted on the couch or at the dining table, but that would make for a painfully boring experience. Having characters move from one side of the stage to the other, whether it be to take glassware into the kitchen or clean up toys from the floor, makes it all feel authentic. It’s all purposeful too – no one is walking from one location to another for the sake of changing up the blocking, it’s all purposeful within the scene and makes sense within the story.
When the second act gets underway, that’s when the production’s best scares reveal themselves. There’s a small handful of loud, screeching jump scares in the first act, but those moments are more befitting to the tone of the second act. The jump scares are fine, but personally it’s the creepiness of the narrative that’s more impactful in generating fear in the audience. As is the case in film, jump scares often release tension rather than build it, and that’s evident in this production. That’s not to say these moments are unwarranted, but they’re certainly not the most effective scares.
The scariest sequences come in the final 30 minutes, particularly when the theatre, including the stage, is shrouded in darkness – it’s where the fantastic application of lighting and sound design shows its worth and it’s up to the atmosphere and the dialogue to instil a sense of unease.
Performance-wise, the undeniable standout is Daniel MacPherson, who delivers an A+ performance as Ben. He fully leans into the role and brings an insane amount of charisma to the stage, contributing to all areas from the chilling dialogue to the bouts of comedy. His acting talents are on full show as he seems to be perfectly cast for the role, making every line feel natural and authentic. Remi Hii’s performance as Sam is also great – he’s infuriating to watch, but that’s just part of the character, which speaks on how strong he is in the role.
When concerning the performances from Ruby Rose and Gemma Ward, both of them are lacking that spark that makes them convincing. They each have a shining moment, but their delivery across the majority of the play is quite jarring and underwhelming. Where Daniel MacPherson’s delivery felt real and natural, both Ruby and Gemma seemed very wooden, as though they were actively reciting lines off a script. There was a lack of flow to their conversations, making the dialogue come across as very robotic and not authentic. It could come down to being miscast in their roles or simply having a lack of stage experience, but nevertheless their performances leave a gaping hole in what could otherwise have been a stellar play.
One element of the play that’s well handled is the localisation of the story. Since the production is playing in Melbourne, the script has been localised to reference locations from around Victoria, making it all a little more relatable for the audience. It’s a small detail that doesn’t change a whole lot about the play, but it’s an attention to detail that’s much appreciated.
If you’re after a night of ghostly horror and tense dialogue, 2:22 A Ghost Story largely delivers on the supernatural thrills it promises, with room for improvement. It’s a slow-moving yet engaging narrative that builds a decent amount suspense, but unfortunately never really gets to the point of having you on the edge of your seat. The staging and blocking is impressive, as is the use of lighting (or lack thereof) and sound to create some of the play’s more chilling moments. Ruby Rose and Gemma Ward don’t do the dialogue any justice with their largely wooden and lacklustre performances, but Daniel MacPherson takes the weight of the play on his back and breathes life into every scene with remarkable charisma.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
2:22 A Ghost Story is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne through to August 20th, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.
Reviewer attended on Friday July 28th, 2023.
Photo credit: Eugene Hyland