Paavo Westerberg’s Thrilling Hit Show in London

Paavo Westerberg’s Thrilling Hit Show in London

The fear factor of the psychological thriller 2:22 depends on the individual viewer. However, one thing is certain – this genre can be as effective in the theater as it is in other mediums.


2:22 am. A Ghost Story. This is the first performance of Danny Robins’ play on the Arena stage of the Helsinki City Theater on February 8, 2024. The play is directed by Paavo Westerberg. ★★★★

It’s not often that one returns to the theater with such reluctance as when watching Danny Robins’ 2:22. A Ghost Story. Not because the show, directed by SpongeBob Westerberg, is bad. On the contrary, it’s because it’s so thrilling and at times quite frightening.

Robins’ play, which premiered in London in 2021, is a skillfully constructed psychological thriller that has already proven to be a perennial favorite. The show is still touring Britain after years in the West End and has been dubbed a modern classic.

Pia Andersson’s (left) Jenny is tired and nervous, Sanna-June Hyde’s Lauren is emphatically relaxed. Picture: Tuomo Manninen

In the Helsinki production, Pia Andersson takes on the role of Jenny, a mother quite tired from her baby years, who starts hearing strange noises from the baby monitor when her husband Sam is on his way to work, and always at the same time at night – 2:22 a.m., as you might guess.

Sam, played by Lauri Tilkanen, is a scientist who does not believe his wife’s stories for a second. However, when Sam’s old student friend Lauren (Sanna-June Hyde) and her new partner Ben (Sauli Suonpää) come over for dinner, they decide to stay up and see for themselves what happens at 2:22 a.m.

Sauli Suonpää’s renovator Ben definitely believes in things from the spirit world, Sanna-June Hyde’s doctor Lauren is confused about the two phases. Picture: Tuomo Manninen

While they wait, the group sips alcohol and debates the existence of supernatural phenomena. Ben, from a working-class background, supports Jenny’s experiences, while Lauren oscillates between belief in the supernatural and Sam’s representation of science.

The text is not reduced to a mere ghost story.

Robins’ play is not just a well-written ghost story. Through the characters’ dialogue, it also brings to light middle-class phenomena such as good parenting, the good life, and gentrification.

The play is filled with clever thought structures. For instance, it draws parallels between ghosts and where one’s attention is directed in the social media feed at any given time.

Lauri Tilkanen is Sam who believes in science. Picture: Tuomo Manninen

All four main actors excel in their roles, successfully creating the changing moods that such a dinner visit entails. Despite the good acting, the Finnish adaptation can feel a little jerky and artificial, especially in the first half of the performance. This phenomenon, sometimes encountered in contemporary novels translated from English, is probably due to the difficulty of translating everyday colloquialisms from one language to another.

I guess I should say something about that creepiness.

As a thriller, I suppose I should address the suspense and fear factor. However, 2:22 is one of those plays that you can’t really divulge much about to those who haven’t seen it. This is also reiterated in the theater’s lobby and in the announcement at the beginning of the show: “You won’t reveal the final solution. Thank you.”

I won’t reveal the ending. But I will say that what each viewer finds exciting or scary is very personal. I myself am easily startled and have completely cut off all modern horror from my life. I survived 2:22 with all dignity, sometimes having to squeeze my bag in my lap for comfort. If you’re wondering whether 2:22 is too intense (or not intense enough) for you, use this as a point of comparison.

Even if the scare – thanks largely to the sound effects by Aleksi Saura and lighting by Petteri Heiskanen – was used a bit excessively, neither Robins’s play nor Westerberg’s interpretation of it is nightmare-inducing or raw.

What I can’t reveal here, is clever in that it opens perspectives on the characters of the play and their mutual relationships even after a good night’s sleep (without nightmares).

The staging by Antti Mattila is realistic and fresh. It also concretizes one of the (middle-class) questions of the show: Can any kind of renovation be done to an old house?

Translation by Anni Ihlberg, composition and sounds by Aleksi Saura, stage design by Antti Mattila, costumes by Laura Dammert, lights by Petteri Heiskanen, makeup by Maija Sillanpää, dramaturgy by Henna Piirto. Cast includes Lauri Tilkanen, Pia Andersson, Sanna-June Hyde, Sauli Suonpää, Matti Rasila, Leena Rapola. The performance is not recommended for children under the age of 12.

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