Lily Allen has made a name for herself by being refreshing, decidedly herself. Her personality permeates her music in a way most pop stars can only dream of: in her lyrics, she candidly and humorously deals with fame, family, sex, motherhood and drug addiction; in interviews and her 2018 memoirs, she doesn’t hesitate to detail her insecurities.
But now Allen ignores her USP and completely becomes someone else, as she makes her West End debut as the frontman of 2:22: A ghost story, which officially opens next week – his first major acting job. How will this paragon of warts and truth fit into a profession founded on pretending to be someone you’re not?
For starters, Allen channels his own life experiences into his performance. In 2:22, Allen plays a woman who becomes convinced her house is haunted – but her husband doesn’t believe her.
The feeling of being stalked by a powerful force and that no one is listening to your protests is something Allen said she can relate to, citing 2000s paparazzi culture and the stalker who plagued her life for many years – examples of how superstar dreams can quickly turn into something out of a horror movie.
Allen’s debut album, Okay again, was released in 2006, at the height of an era that treated its pop stars disrespectfully at best and inhumanly at worst. Now we begin to reckon with the effects of this era on such figures as Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse. Allen has always been one of the most honest and articulate voices to communicate what it feels like to go through this special hell. In some ways, 2: The Scary Story of 22 – Written by Danny Robins, whose podcast The Battersea poltergeist was a hit earlier this year – is just another way to dig deeper.
Despite being Allen’s first leading role, the 36-year-old has performed in theater before, with cameo appearances in films produced by her mother, Alison Owen (the 1998 Cate Blanchett film Elisabeth; 2019 How to build a girl). Her father, actor Keith Allen, also drew her on his plans as a child: spotting her in an episode of an 80s comedy anthology series. The comic presents… And the video for Fat Les’s ‘Vindaloo’ football anthem.
Clearly, Allen had a starry childhood. For a while her stepfather was Harry Enfield and growing up she was close to Joe Strummer of The Clash. But she quickly rose to fame than her last name thanks to both critically acclaimed records and huge commercial success.
Despite his propensity to make headlines and a bit of short-lived career diversification – opening a vintage boutique; pulling out her own sex toy – her music has always been the main attraction.
Allen isn’t giving up on her original career – she is currently writing her fifth album – but her stint in the movies could be more than a brief flirtation. Matthew Dunster, 2:22The director of, said he thought she “would want to make amazing movies and television – and I think that will happen once people see her in this movie.”
It would make sense: Over the past two years, it’s the screen world that has housed the most powerful examples of radical female honesty, thanks to shows like I can destroy you and I hate Suzie (with pop star turned actor Billie Piper).
While playing, Allen could use his frank, fallible, and remarkably frank voice to even more influential use.
2:22: A ghost story, Noël Coward Theater, London, until October 16 (0844 482 5138)