The Twilight Zone

Based on stories by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, adapted by Anne Washburn

Almeida Theatre

From 05 December 2017 to 27 January 2018

Review by Philip Fisher

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For the uninitiated, The Twilight Zone was a cult American TV series that ran for dozens of episodes starting with a five-year outing from 1959 and then enjoying two “revivals”, the most recent of which ended less than 15 years ago.

In simple language, it was a sci-fi series playing on fears about alien invasions and the concept of parallel universes. Judging by the storylines purloined and adapted for the stage, this was the kind of TV that made B-movies look classy. Expressed differently, it probably set out to attract the kind of audiences who wallow in reality TV and adult fantasy series today.

In the early stages, one gets the impression that the creative team of Artistic Director, Rupert Goold, stage adapter Anne Washburn and the play’s director Richard Jones saw nothing more than an opportunity for a comedy spoof that might provide a degree of seasonal entertainment.

Paul Steinberg’s design and Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes very deliberately seek to take us back to the days when television came from cathode-ray tubes that broadcast in black and white, if you were lucky.

Almost everything and everyone is kitted out in black, white and grey, while the proscenium arch has the shape of an old-style television screen. To add to the effect, a suspended TV set generally broadcasts white noise, but is then used for certain scenes of the play.

The opening of the 2½-hour-long evening presents broad comedy, as the 10-strong acting ensemble present a not very chilling or threatening comedy, going to some trouble to act as badly as the performers in the original series.

The stories chosen thereafter, which weave in and out of each other, are for the most part frankly silly. However there are a couple of recurring themes that amuse and intrigue, particularly the tale of a trio of American astronauts and also the mysterious appearance of cigarettes in the hands of confirmed non-smokers.

Only in the later stages does it become apparent that the moving forces behind the play have managed to discover some important messages that transcend the time gap, ironically taking the show into the future it was so desperate to predict (or lampoon?).

The highlight of the evening is an edgy scene in which a doctor and his family descend into their private nuclear bunker, leaving the neighbours above ground contemplating imminent death. Rather than praying or taking the British attitude and putting on a stiff upper lip, family groupings turn on each other, delivering the kind of racist and anti-immigrant messages that have become so popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the last few years.

This is then followed by some tying up of loose ends and a final message suggesting that rather than worrying about what aliens might do to the human race, we would be better looking into our own souls and resolving to do far better in future.

The Twilight Zone will obviously appeal to sci-fi freaks everywhere. In addition, it might prove amusing for audiences who have never seen the TV series and would like to find out what they’ve been missing.