When Cheryl (no surname) emerges onto the stage for her West End debut in 2:22 A Ghost Story, it’s tantalising. Her back is turned; she makes us wait. When she finally faces us, it’s with a glass of wine in hand and a scarf wrapped in her hair. Gone is the glamorous pop star, the X Factor judge: Cheryl the actor stands before us. She is Jenny, the role originated by fellow pop star Lily Allen, a young mother in a haunted home. But is she any good? Actually, yes.
It’s 2.20pm and Jenny and husband Sam (Scott Karim) are alone in their new home. Their infant daughter sleeps upstairs while Jenny clings to the baby monitor; another couple, Lauren and Ben, are coming over for a drink this evening. But when they arrive and the wine starts flowing, the cause of Jenny’s paranoia becomes clear. At 2:22am every night, she hears strange noises in the baby’s room and is convinced it’s a ghost. Sam, a self-proclaimed sceptic, scoffs.
As Jenny, Cheryl gives a confident, measured performance. Her Geordie accent may be instantly recognisable, but she fully inhabits the role. She excels in the show’s quieter, more naturalistic moments, and has a knack for comic timing. In moments, it’s hard to separate Jenny from the glamorous pop star, but when she smiles or cradles a cup of tea, her performance is totally believable.
Her performance is all the more impressive, given the clichéd dialogue that makes up Danny Robins’ script. A lot of the time, the cast are required to shout at each other, the strain on Cheryl’s vocal cords audible. The cheesiest lines fall to Sam and his friend Lauren (Louise Ford), one particularly smug exchange playing out as she shouts: “Don’t piss on my chips,” and he replies: “Your pomme frites will remain un-urinated upon.”
But for its faults, I can’t deny the enjoyment I got out of 2:22, which is far funnier than it is scary. The clock on the wall counts down comically slowly, but this show never feels like a drag. 2:22 has spawned memes for its unconventional casting, so which star will be Jenny next? Amanda from The Traitors? Maya Jama? Molly-Mae Hague? I wait with bated breath.
‘2:22 A Ghost Story’ is at the Lyric Theatre until 23 April