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Supernatural West End Phenomenon 2:22 A Ghost Story
September 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

The West End's 2:22 A Ghost Story is coming to Newcastle

Writer Danny Robins, who grew up in Newcastle, tells Living North more about his award-winning play, and why he's so fascinated by ghosts.

Danny has been interested in all things paranormal since he was a child. ‘I think I was drawn into the theatrical mystery of ghosts,’ he explains. ‘I loved the excitement and intrigue of ghost stories. My mum had been brought up in a catholic household but she was an atheist, so we were brought up in a house where belief didn’t exist. For that reason I was fascinated by belief and what makes people believe in certain things. I guess I always wondered if I was missing out on something. Some people found God, and I found ghosts. I was intrigued by their supernatural power. The question “what happens to us after we die?” is something that intrigues all of us. There was a moment in my early 20s where I was convinced I was having a heart attack. It turned out it was a panic attack but that gave me a real fear of death and that’s still with me to this day. I was interested in the idea of being able to come back from death and the paradox that ghosts are both frightening and comforting. Even if it’s subconsciously, I think a lot of us would say that that possibility of a second chance is something that draws us to ghost stories.’

Danny was (and is) just as passionate about theatre. In fact, he says he was a ‘precocious theatre-loving kid’. ‘I spent so much time in Newcastle Theatre Royal as a kid,’ he says. ‘I probably saw my first Shakespeare play when I was six or seven and they used to give school kids free or discounted tickets to see the RSC so as a teenager I saw so many amazing productions. Newcastle has such great theatres and so much great theatre has come out of it too – a lot of great writers.’ Inspired by the creatives around him, Danny’s comedy career started in his late teens, touring North East pubs. ‘I was friendly with Ross Noble: we were at the same youth theatre together,’ he says. ‘He was performing at The Comedy Café when it was run by Dave Johns and I’d tag along and do support acts. We’d go round Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Sunderland.’

Danny later worked with Lenny Henry on the radio sitcom Rudy's Rare Records which was adapted for the stage in 2014, and he co-wrote the CBBC comedy Young Dracula (which aired between 2006 and 2014). ‘I think I hit a point where I felt a bit unfulfilled by being facetious and frivolous, and ghosts are something I’d been obsessed with my whole life,’ Danny continues. ‘I had an idea for a play and I asked around on social media for people to share their ghosts stories and received so many. I realised I was collecting a treasure trove of real stories about quite extraordinary things so decided to make a podcast [Haunted]. One particular story led to The Battersea Poltergeist podcast series. In lockdown we all wanted some form of entertainment and I think at that point podcasts became a friend and that one just exploded. Suddenly I had Hollywood producers on the phone trying to buy the rights and found myself being described as “the UK’s go-to ghost guy”.’

Read More: We Caught Up with Leeds-Born Actress Angela Griffin

2:22 A Ghost Story tour cast
Images from Cheryl’s West End run © Helen Murray

Uncanny [Danny’s BBC Radio series] grew out of that. ‘The thing that the podcasts do that’s different to every other paranormal show is that we attract sceptics and believers in equal measure so we keep an open mind. It maintains the idea that it’s okay to disagree, to change your mind and to keep an open mind. These are positive messages to be pumping out.’

Whilst working on these podcasts, Danny’s play 2:22 A Ghost Story was showing in the West End. The supernatural thriller soon became London’s must-see theatre event. In the play, Jenny believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam doesn’t believe her. They argue with their dinner guests Lauren and Ben and decide to stay up until 2:22 to see if there really is a ghost. ‘It’s directly inspired by a mate of mine telling me that she’d seen a ghost,’ Danny explains. ‘I just remember thinking in that moment “wow, all of our friends are going to react to her in really different ways”. It’s something that would divide our friendship group. If the person you love doesn’t believe you, what do you do? That’s the problem at the heart of this play. This clash between belief and scepticism is embodied in these characters. The thrill is the ticking clock, locked-room mystery – whether the ghost will appear and who is right.’

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Images from Cheryl’s West End run © Helen Murray

The play was performed just as the pandemic allowed theatres to be full again. ‘We wanted to create a really fun, adrenaline-filled night out,’ says Danny. ‘When I wrote the play I wanted it to feel like a big event. Growing up, I enjoyed watching shows like The Woman in Black, and I was really aware of the power of a ghost story in a theatre. You’re grabbing onto your neighbour, jumping out of your seat and talking about the play afterwards. Word of mouth for 2:22 has been great. People have really loved it and the word has really spread.’ 

One of the most talked about aspects of this play has been the ever-changing cast. Since the West End premiere, it’s starred singer Lily Allen, Eastenders’ Jake Wood and Ricky Champ, The Inbetweeners’ James Buckley, author and actress Giovanna Fletcher, presenter Laura Whitmore, Busted star Matt Willis, local lass Cheryl Cole and One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush (as well as other popular names). At Newcastle Theatre Royal, Doc Martin’s Joe Absolom will play Ben, River City’s Charlene Boyd will play Lauren, It’s a Sin and The Witcher star Nathaniel Curtis will play Sam and Eastenders’ Louisa Lytton will play Jenny. ‘We’ve attracted a young audience (a lot of under 35s who wouldn’t necessarily go to the theatre usually),’ says Danny. ‘For a long time I felt that theatre can be really elitist and quite inaccessible but this play gives you a license to interact, and I love the fact that in between scenes you can hear a bit of chatter. If theatre is going to have a life and continue in the future then we need to be attracting that younger generation. The casting has been a big part of that. We want to cast people who the audience genuinely want to see, who are simply worth spending your money and time on.’

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Danny thought he’d picked the number 2:22 at random but over time he’s realised it’s significant in various ways. ‘People have pointed out that it’s an angelic number and someone sent me the really apt Daniel 2:22 from the Bible, which is all about seeing things in darkness,’ he says. ‘The best one came from Harry Potter’s Tom Felton, who was playing Sam at the time. He asked me why I chose this number and I said “I don’t know, 22 is my lucky number, I always book row 22 on a plane and my birthday is 22nd September”. He said “you’re kidding, that’s my birthday too!” It turned out he has a similar obsession with the number and now we keep seeing it. I’d even sit down in a random seat during rehearsals and he’d point out I’m in seat 22 – that sort of thing. There seem to be certain numbers that you notice more but I don’t know why that is.’

Danny is excited about returning to Newcastle with 2:22. ‘Newcastle Theatre Royal was really a place of dreams for me,’ he says. ‘To be showing my own play there is absolutely a childhood dream fulfilled. I’ll also be heading to Northern Stage with The Uncanny Podcast tour [1st and 2nd November] and that’s another venue where I’ve seen so many great shows. To actually perform there, in front of a hometown crowd, is another dream of mine. I’m so excited.’ 

Danny is also releasing a book – Into The Uncanny – on 14th September. ‘It’s brand new cases but also my own personal journey from being a kid growing up in Newcastle to having my play in the West End,’ he says. ‘I’m loving telling ghost stories and I’m loving the fact that people are sharing theirs with me.’

2:22 A Ghost Story plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 19th–Saturday 23rd September. Keep up to date with Danny’s work, and share your ghost stories with him at 

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