Jay McGuiness

The Wanted’s Jay McGuiness on his Role in 2:22 A Ghost Story

2:22 A Ghost Story is an adrenaline-filled play coming to Sunderland Empire on 21 May. Speaking on his role as Ben is Jay McGuiness

Caroline Dask

Journalist at Luxe

2:22 A Ghost Story is coming to Sunderland Empire from 21 until 25 May and it’s got everything to get the audience hooked. Drama, comedy, edge-of-your-seat storyline and the supernatural. It’s a recipe for a brilliant show.

Written by award-winning writer Danny Robins, creator of the hit BBC podcast The Battersea Poltergeist, and directed by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr, 2:22 A Ghost Story will be a night where secrets emerge and ghosts may, or may not, appear.

It follows Jenny, who believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam isn’t having any of it. They argue with their first dinner guests, old friend Lauren and new partner Ben. Belief and scepticism clash, but something feels strange and frightening, and that something is getting closer, so they’ll stay up until 2:22 and then they’ll know.

Before the show arrives at Sunderland Empire, we’re catching up with The Wanted’s Jay McGuiness, winner of Strictly Come Dancing, an author and an actor, on the play and his role as Ben.

The Wanted's Jay McGuiness 2:22 A Ghost Story Sunderland Empire

You’ve been in one of the most popular bands, The Wanted, you’ve won Strictly Come Dancing, written a book and now you’re playing Ben in 2:22 A Ghost Story. Where does your love for theatre come from?

I think as a kid in the UK we have the tradition of pantomimes, don’t we? That’s probably the first theatre I ever saw. From a young age, I have always loved music and dancing and I was just a natural-born theatre kid.

Then, of course with The Wanted I leaned so heavily into singing, and since then, and because of the success of the band, I was able to branch back out into the other arts, and I’m so happy to finally be back to acting.

You’ve been in a few different theatre roles, for BIG! The Musical, Sleepless, Rip It Up and more. What initially drew you to the role of Ben in 2:22 – A Ghost Story?

So, I watched the show many months ago now, with a different cast and I sat there with my manager and we were so thrilled and entertained by the show and as soon as the curtain went down I looked at my manager and said ‘Please find a way to get me an audition for this’ and, basically, he made some calls and put me in front of the right people.

As a character, Ben often is someone that comes in and breaks some of that tension with comedy and that’s a really rewarding thing to be doing every night, because you have an immediate reaction from the audience, either laughing or not, so you know if you’re doing a good job.

We’re over 100 shows in now and still every day I go out there and I’m like ‘Okay I need to make them laugh, I need to get in their head’, and I just love it.

How does the character of Ben differ from roles you’ve played in the past?

Well, I think more than any other character I’ve played Ben is a geezer! He’s a very old-school macho man. I think also playing a cockney and the culture that surrounds those people and their customs, the way they respect their women and uphold them in a very old school traditional way is very interesting to play.

Ben is also a bit of a goofball at times and I love leaning into that because I’m a bit of a nerd!

The Wanted's Jay McGuiness 2:22 A Ghost Story Sunderland Empire

Have you faced any challenges and, if so, how have you overcome them?

I think keeping consistency is a bit of a challenge because after doing so many shows you start to find new things in the character that you might enjoy playing but you need to remember that this is the first time the audience is watching the show, so you need to try and stick to the framework.

Keeping those funny points and the drama consistent and ensuring everyone gets that first viewing experience is a bit of a challenge but we’ve got a really great director who comes and sees our show in every single city, so they’re actively investing in keeping the show tight, in and out in two hours!

Can you give us some insight into your preparation process for this role?

I actually had Cockney voice lessons with an amazing dialect coach Hazel, and she took what was already maybe 90% there and tweaked some of the things I couldn’t hear that I was doing.

I never realised that Cockney people have more of an open sound and pronounce words in an ever so slightly different way. It was great to work on that and consider my own speech. This meant I could also go in confidently knowing that I sounded Cockney and then play more with the character than having to worry about dialects too much.

The play explores themes of belief, scepticism, and the supernatural. How do you approach these themes in your portrayal of Ben?

Ben is a very decisive young man and he believes what he believes. He’s very in tune with his spirituality even though he’s not a very articulate person. He’s a deep feeler and he goes into that world with an unshakable belief. I don’t think he’s got big questions about the afterlife, it doesn’t seem to concern him and he’s quite secure in that when he dies he’s going see his mum again.

There’s some joy in that as opposed to other people who always have these big questions, doubts and considerations. So, it’s nice to play someone who is calm and confident about what happens afterwards.

The Wanted's Jay McGuiness 2:22 A Ghost Story Sunderland Empire

How do you personally relate to the themes explored in the play, such as the blurred lines between the supernatural and the rational?

I wouldn’t say that I’m a believer in the supernatural but I also wouldn’t say that I’m a sceptic. I think I’m pretty open to the idea that all kinds of things are going on that we can’t sense. Besides, it would be arrogant to think that we do know and understand everything.

Even now, our voices are travelling hundreds or thousands of miles and we’re still able to talk. There’s some magic in that, in a way. So, yes, I’m open to the fact that there could be a spirit world that we can’t touch.

What do you find most intriguing or compelling about the storyline of 2:22 – A Ghost Story?

I think the charm of the show, for me, lies in the fact that there are four people in the show that you get to spend time with. And it’s a dinner party, so it’s a very naturalistic play. So, the audience can see the way people interact, and when they leave the room and are on their own, what do they think when they’re not being watched? That human element in it is simply great.

I really like how some people might say something polite at a dinner party, but underneath, there’s bubbling anger. The show also has moments where you think ‘That’s exactly what my girlfriend would say to me!’, so the audience can relate.

Who would you say is this show for?

It’s for everyone! In all the theatres that we go to, there is the traditional theatre-going community that comes to see every show, but 2:22 A Ghost Story also brings in an audience that isn’t very traditional, one that just wants an entertaining night that scares and shocks them. So, I noticed a mixed range of people that come to see our show, so it really is for everyone.

One of the best compliments we received from theatres as well was that they hadn’t seen so many young people come in for a play in a long time. I think that’s great because when you’re a bit older, you have a little bit more time and you can do those sorts of things. But to be able to compete with whatever kids are up to nowadays and get them into the theatre is very exciting.

Besides, I find it hilarious when teenagers are watching the show, grabbing each other and screaming. It’s great fun!

The Wanted's Jay McGuiness 2:22 A Ghost Story Sunderland Empire

What do you hope audiences will take away from their experience watching 2:22 – A Ghost Story?

I know a lot of them will be left laughing, but I also think the show does give the audience food for thought. Once you see what happens towards the end, you will be able to look back on the rest of the play and think about all the clues that were there along the way.

It’s one of those shows where you can sit and think about it afterwards. It sparks conversation and makes you come up with your own theories that you can later discuss with others.

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to about bringing this production to audiences in Sunderland?

Getting into the North East, you always have a more passionate audience. The show has been in London for so long, and now with it coming to Sunderland, that audience will be able to see what the fuss is all about.

I was in Sunderland for ‘White Christmas’ and it was the most lovely audience, so I’m really looking forward to coming back with this squad.

2:22 A Ghost Story with The Wanted’s Jay McGuiness is playing at Sunderland Empire from 21 until 25 May.