2:22 A Ghost Story review: Can Cheryl act? She certainly shouts convincingly
2:22 A Ghost story review and star rating: ★★★☆☆
Should X Factor and Girls Aloud’s Cheryl be cast as a lead in a major West End play when she hasn’t any acting experience? The question of ‘stunt casting’ – employing a celebrity that isn’t known for acting to sell tickets – is age old. Elvis moved into film to change his image in the 1950s, Paris Hilton guested on My Name Is Earl in the naughties and Lily Allen was the first to play Jenny in 2:22 A Ghost Story in 2021.
Acting organisations have questioned the decision when so many working actors are struggling to find paid gigs, but the financial reality is that 2:22 has managed to fill seats with celebrity casting.
So how was Cheryl? She starts off comically stiff, with some bad over-acting, glancing around the room over-dramatically between her lines. (Perhaps she was looking for fellow Girls Aloud alum Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Wyatt, who both sat near the front on press night?) But she warms into the role of Jenny, an exasperated Londoner who fights with her boyfriend Sam over whether or not their house is haunted.
She’s particularly good at acting angry, which she gets a fair go at. She has a huge pair of lungs, asserting herself alongside the capable trained actors on stage, doing well at matching up her facial expressions, body language and lines to form a cohesive image of a furious person. By the middle of act two, she’s gesticulating about the place like thrice the actor she was in the opening scenes. Cheryl’s West End future looks bright.
The sweetest part of it all is the symbiotic relationship between Cheryl and the audience, many of whom are clearly lifelong fans of the 39-year-old pop star. Jenny has a lot of jokes, and while Cheryl isn’t particularly funny, the audience laugh along with her anyway. It’s genuinely adorable: not what theatre should aim for, perhaps, but valid in its own way.
There’s a pertinent line where Ben, a working class Londoner dating the couple’s friend Lauren, talks about social change in the capital and alludes to Jenny and Sam. “What am I? Posh?” Cheryl bellows, subverting ideas of London poshness with her strong Geordie accent. It’s one of a few interesting if not groundbreaking assertions on class led by Ben, played by EastEnders veteran Jake Wood, the strongest of writer Danny Robins’ characters by a country mile. Wood breathes fantastic life into him, making sure the audience can find glimmers of joy and humour in every one of his earnest proclamations. There’s a touch of soap opera about the way Wood holds himself on stage but the audience probably don’t care, given his background, and he deserves to have returned to this role a second time.
As for the show, it’s good fun. Decent pop-theatre, threaded with enough jump-scares to make you relieved when the lights go up for the intermission. Will Houstoun’s illusions as the second act reaches its climax are convincingly ghostly and unnerving, and loud pops of music and lighting plunge the audience into darkness, involving them like they’re on a rollercoaster ride, providing little snippets where you can turn to the person next to you and revel in the chaos.
The finale lets the rest down. I’ll keep my cards close to my chest, but the explanation for the ghost doesn’t quite add up, and feels anticlimactic, but hey ho, we’ve jumped a few times and Cheryl’s been on, so everyone goes home happy.
2:22 A Ghost story runs until 23 April
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