Tom Felton & The Phantom Menace

The exterior of the Criterion Theatre. The curved canopy overhanging the entrance has an ornate grinning figurehead centred in between the words Criterion and Theatre. Above that, in large red numbers against black, is a digital clock face showing 2:22. Either side of the entrance doorway below, meanwhile, are vertical boards with the headshots and names of the 4 lead actors against a black background, 2 on each side.

Following on from my comedy and musical theatre visits back in June, a couple of weeks ago I experienced a different genre – a horror play – when I attended an audio described performance of 2:22 A Ghost Story at The Criterion Theatre. Not only was it a great show, but I also got to meet a movie star and a renowned disability advocate. So it was well worth the visit, it wasn’t sponsored or gifted, and I hope you enjoy reading about it!

The show, written by Danny Robins, has been running since 2021 in a few different theatres with different casts, with the first run even including Lily Allen in her West End debut last year. And it’s been very popular, winning WhatsOnStage awards and being nominated for Olivier Awards.

Currently the production is in its third iteration, which has already been extended to January 2023. It stars Tom Felton (best known for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) and Mandip Gill (famous as companion Yasmin Khan in Doctor Who), who are also both making their West End debuts here. So I obviously know those two very well from those franchises, and I also saw Tom in Season 3 of The Flash over 5 years ago in a far less memorable role. But their characters in this case are naturally very different from the ones they’re most famous for. It initially feels unusual to hear them swearing, for example, but when they do so it’s justified in the context of the story. And they’re both excellent in their roles here.

The other two actors accompanying them – Beatriz Romilly and Sam Swainsbury – were brilliant too, though I had never heard of them. I have seen Beatriz before, it turns out, in an episode of The Green Green Grass, and she was in The Bill for a few episodes from 2006-2007 as a drugs mule called Eva Garcia, but otherwise I haven’t seen anything else that either of them have been in.

The chemistry between the quartet works really well, and you can see them all talking about the show with some clips from it, as well as videos of Tom & Mandip being interviewed on This Morning and talking about ghosts.

The story centres around Jenny (played by Mandip), who has become convinced that there is a ghost in her new house, and is terrified of what it’s going to do to her baby, whose room it seems to be keen on visiting at 2:22am every night. But her husband Sam (played by Tom), who learns about this when he returns after a few days away, is having none of it. With his scientific expertise, he knows that everything can be explained in a more rational way. But he can’t convince Jenny to think sensibly about it, and they end up at loggerheads over it.

He is then further frustrated when she raises the issue with two of their friends, Ben and Lauren, who they’ve invited over for a dinner party, and they are persuaded to stay until 2:22 to find out what’s going on. The dramatic tension builds constantly throughout the story, putting everyone increasingly on edge, which causes tempers to fray and secrets to spill out. We learn a lot about the characters and their connections to one another as a result, and all 4 of them prove to be very interesting. The dinner guests may seem like irritating characters at first, but there’s more depth to them than you initially expect.

So it’s a gripping human drama more than a horror, ultimately. Although, that said, there are some jump scares, often to mark sudden scene transitions when the clock spins forward, but also in a few other moments too, just to keep everyone on their toes. But to balance all of that, there’s a surprising amount of humour mixed in too, there are a lot of funny lines. So there’s quite a bit of light and shade in the script, and in the set design for that matter, although the darker aspects of the story nudge themselves more and more to the forefront as it progresses.

And there’s certainly no humour when the big twist is revealed at the end – the horror aspect really does take centre stage then. I hadn’t figured it out, and the gasps I heard around the auditorium showed I wasn’t the only one. It certainly gets you thinking, it’s very well-executed (perhaps not the best choice of phrase for a horror show!). In hindsight there are things that could be seen as clues, but there are also subtle red herrings and distractions that throw you off as well. It would really warrant a second viewing to assess it properly with a fresh perspective, which is testament to the writing that it can be watched more than once in that way.

The audio description, delivered by Jane Ensell and Timna Fibert for VocalEyes, was really important and very useful, as there were several visual elements that were essential to know about, not just the time on the clock. And it was delivered in a suitably tense style in the moments that called for it.

We also had a touch tour on stage before the show, so we were able to understand the general layout of the set, handle replicas of the costumes worn by the characters, and feel important props including the baby monitor, a teddy bear and an Alexa machine. So, as always, that really enhanced the experience of seeing the show later on.

On top of that, the cast themselves actually came on stage during the tour to say hello, which is always an incredibly generous gesture when that happens, given that they’re busy preparing for the show. And that meant I was one of a few people who got to chat to Tom Felton! He was so friendly, and was genuinely fascinated to learn how important touch tours and audio described performances are to our community, so he was proud to be part of it. After all, as I said earlier, this is his West End debut, so he’s had no experience of this type of accessible performance before. I didn’t get the chance to say hello to Mandip Gill unfortunately, as she was presumably talking to others, but just getting to meet one member of the cast was privilege enough.

And talking of meeting people, there were quite a lot of visually impaired folk there on this occasion, which was great, and they had to take us on to the relatively small stage in little groups to make it easier. A lot of them were part of a group called Eye Matter, who I’d never heard of before, but they seemed very nice. And there were several couples and individuals who had come by themselves too, including renowned disability activist and campaigner Dr Amy Kavanagh, accompanied by her Guide Dog Ava of course (who took a shine to Tom!). So it was lovely to finally say hello to her, having followed her online for a few years now.

The staff at the Criterion Theatre were wonderful and helpful too, of course, and thankfully the beautiful venue is air conditioned, so it was comfortable to watch the play despite the hot summer sun outside. Tickets were delivered electronically via a link in a text message, through which you could pre-order stuff to pick up before the show or during the interval if you wished. I didn’t bother with that, but it was nice to have that convenience in case I’d wanted to. It’s also handy that the theatre is right by the exit of Piccadilly Circus station, next to Lillywhites and the so-called Eros statue (officially called the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain), so it was easy to get to.

So I had a great time, I can highly recommend seeing the play. And thank you to Tom Felton, his cast mates and the theatre staff for making it such a good experience!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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