2:22 A Ghost Story, review: Cheryl spirits up new possibilities in gripping debut

Cheryl in 2:22 A Ghost Story - Helen Murray
Cheryl in 2:22 A Ghost Story - Helen Murray

Cheryl, it says on the billboards outside the Lyric, no surname appended, in contrast to the three other cast members (Louise Ford, Scott Karim and Jake Wood), spiriting to life Danny Robins’s teasingly clever and deservedly lucrative spine-tingler, now in its fifth iteration in the West End since its 2021 premiere and residing in a new home.

That mononym (adopted around 2012) is a measure of how self-reliant and, well, famous this acting debutante is.

Cheryl (Tweedy then Cole in the 2000s) is tackling a strikingly down-to-earth role created by another chart-topper, Lily Allen – that of a primary school teacher, Jenny, who fears her house is haunted.

Not for this star the kind of chic part (art-dealer) that Madonna essayed in her derided 2002 West End debut. Given her fame you’d imagine “Chezza” would have more than the ghost of a chance of pulling in the crowds. But oddly there’s still plenty of availability for the rest of her run, which has been reported as earning her up to £750,000.

You’d think those who loved her from her Girls Aloud days (and two old band members Kimberley Walsh and Nicola Roberts attended opening night) or from her endearing stints as an X Factor judge, would be packing the place to the rafters.

The trend-setting Geordie hasn’t exactly been shy in advancing the opinion that she’s well equipped to leave her comfort zone and that it is a “natural extension” of her performing career, telling one interviewer that when she saw the show “The whole time I was thinking: ‘I could so do this’.”

Could it be that even diehard fans need persuading that she’s got what it takes? Were those of us witnessing her latest move perhaps in for the kind of toe-curling artistic overreach that has caused Simon Cowell (not in the house last night) and co to drop jaws over the years?

Actually it’s no fright night in that respect. She proves a class act and - whisper it - is even the most understated player on stage.

She has always exuded self-composure and while that uprightness (not to mention her flawless complexion) doesn’t wholly match the frazzled new mum and hands on teacher brief, it accords with the character’s status consciousness: Robins takes comic swipes at gentrifying types – Jen and her husband Sam have been tarting up a newly acquired old wreck – which might be rejecting them, what with spooky goings on at eerie 2:22am.

The odd sweary moment aside, the concerted restraint helps accentuate how much this alarmed, alone feeling creature is trying to keep a lid on things. And the aura of withheld concern contrasts well with the jolting screams caused by rampant foxes outside and fraying nerves within.

Taunted by disbelieving hubby Sam (a twitchy, pallid Karim) for being spooked in front of two guests, summoned to verify the poltergeist – Jenny’s self-doubt helps gloss gestures that can look a little awkward.

But when it comes to the claws-out showdowns with Sam, the newbie actress is no novice, bringing something materially nay maritally real to the scenarios.

The climactic moments are as nail-biting as any talent-show finale. There’s good work from Ford as the increasingly sloshed Lauren and from Wood as her incompatible but paranormally insightful builder boyfriend.

Still, without getting too carried away, it’s Cheryl – whoo-hoo – who has opened a portal to another world of possibility.