By Jessica Taurins
Life after death is polarising. There could be an afterlife where your dreams come true, or everything could end at brain death, or some of us poor souls could be trapped between one ending and another. Ghosts, poltergeists, spectres, phantoms – all different ideas to convey the same idea that some personalities linger on.
Polarising conversation is the concept behind 2:22: A Ghost Story, with the differing viewpoints held by each character teased out through the two hour performance. Jenny (Gemma Ward) is a fearful new mum, convinced that at 2:22am each morning a ghost visits her child’s bedroom to weep and stomp in circles. Sam (Remy Hii) is her husband, a stubborn man of science who, just that evening, returned from a dark sky expedition where he watched the stars and lost his phone. Lauren (Ruby Rose) and Ben (Daniel MacPherson) are friends of the couple who visit for dinner, and end up torn between Sam’s scientific sentiment and Jenny’s desire to believe. Thus, the question is simple: if the group stays together until 2:22am, what will become of Jenny’s ghost?
Each character has their own secrets to tell during the uncomfortable all-night dinner party. Rose’s Lauren is an alcoholic (and possibly a pill-popper, though this wasn’t especially clear) and has decided that at her age it would be impossible for there to be any perfect men remaining. A bit bleak, but understandable once the show progresses. As a psychologist, she also uses her knowledge of the human mind to manipulate the others without their notice, which is frankly a terrible way to treat friends.
Poor Ben, the man Lauren has clearly settled for, is an openly spiritual (but non-religious) man troubled by the gentrification of his formerly lower class suburb. Ben takes the most interesting side of each argument posed by the play’s script – he chooses to believe in Jenny’s ghost and helps her search for its truth rather than putting her down repeatedly like her husband. As a builder, he feels guilt that his job is to tear down the homes of former immigrants so that “rich f-cks” can move in over the top of tight communities, yet he needs to make money, and so he soldiers on.
Jenny and Sam are perhaps the weakest characters of the main cast, which is most unfortunate as the story predominantly revolves around them. To Hii’s credit, he plays the immensely unlikeable Sam in the best way possible, but the character is boorish and headstrong to the point of diminishing every element of his wife’s personality, which simultaneously chastising her every time she speaks or makes a decision. Jenny is one-note, perhaps due to the years of living with her pretty terrible husband, but Ward does her best to bring warmth to someone who spends much of the show struck with fear. Their secrets are too tied to the show’s finale to cover – no spoilers here – and are satisfying in some ways, while somehow disappointing in others.
Anna Fleischle’s set design is a standout of the show’s theming. The stage is Jenny and Sam’s kitchen and living space, half-painted and with peeling wallpaper as evidence of their renovations. The stark contrast of the sparkling-new appliances and modern furniture against the ageing wallpaper complements the characters and the writing very well.
A little less appealing, but no less effective, was the show’s sound design by Ian Dickinson. There are a few jumpscares throughout the performance, though these became easier to predict at pivotal story moments, which kept my heart rate a little lower during Act 2! There were multiple moments of screaming foxes throughout the show, and in conjunction with the extremely loud cut-to-black jumpscares, started to lose effectiveness towards the end of the performance. In addition, the fox plot payoff was so minor that I felt some of the screams could have been removed.
The show made great use of special effects with a talking and flashing Alexa home assistant, the constantly-warbling baby monitor, and the flickering digital clock signifying the slow steps towards 2:22am. These were fantastic to watch and wonder just how they were done behind the scenes.
Overall, 2:22: A Ghost Story is a wonderful night out. The story, while a bit rambling, has a tight ending twist which is relatively well foreshadowed if you keep your eyes open. Daniel MacPherson is a standout as Ben, with the rest of the cast typifying their characters quite well. The final-moments entrance of additional performers Ayeesha Ash and Jack van Staveren was also a delightful surprise to finish up the show, and they played their support roles with huge personality.
For horror fans – this is a must see. Try not to look too hard for the ending, and instead think about the dichotomies of life presented by the story, and consider where you land. Is it important to preserve our tradition and history, or should we concede to the future of shiny steel bathrooms instead of handmade wooden tables? Are ghosts really real, or just our minds keeping around the people we love so we can talk to them after they’re gone?
Images: Eugene Hyland