Review – The Twilight Zone, Almeida Theatre

Friday 8 December 2017

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension of not only bad sightlines and the sound of coughing and rustling sweet wrappers but of the mindless thoughts of Phil’s ramblings. It is the middle ground between success and failure, the dimension of the very first preview and the first time Phil has entered the shadowy world of theatre with only Andrew in tow for quite some time. You have crossed over into an area we call The Twilight Zone.

The show’s publicity claims:

this world premiere production of the acclaimed CBS television series The Twilight Zone lands on stage for the first time in its history. Or its present. Or its future.

Amusing but slightly misleading. There have been other stage versions (according to Wikipedia) based on stories from the series by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson one even by arrangement with the Serling estate, though this is the first to be rubber-stamped by CBS.

Anyhoo, pedantry aside, this, rather unpromisingly, is an adaptation by Anne Washburn who took another piece of iconic TV culture The Simpsons and came up with Mr Burns (Phil made it through only the first of its three acts) and director Richard Jones who gave us an Annie Get Your Gun that we have found most difficult to forgive.

Still, Mr Jones has plundered his most acceptable Once in a Lifetime from last Christmas. That show has donated Lizzy Connolly, Amy Griffiths and John Marquez, all, like the rest of this cast, rather splendid in their multiple roles.

Ms Washburn must be applauded for watching all 156 episodes, then putting about 7 of them in the creative blender, some full stories, others snippets of episodes, and serving them up in a kind of Twilight mashup which works with varying degrees of success.

It kicks off with most of the Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? episode concerning a group of stranded bus passengers who may have an alien in their midst. Then the puréeing begins and the stories start to cross-pollinate and get a little confusing; there’s an awful lot of scenery shifting to contend with, too much twirling of Daliesque/Pop Art thingamabobs between scenes and some rather splendidly ill-fitting wigs, presumably because the cast don’t have enough time stick them down properly as they change. Some of this may be sorted in time.

Little Girl Lost does what it says on the tin as it involves trying to rescue a girl who has fallen through a fourth dimensional portal in her bedroom giving a good idea where Poltergeist got its idea from. A second act story about attempts to gatecrash a neighbour’s fallout shelter in the face of an impending nuclear strike has a decent degree of tension and the dilemma of who, if anyone, you help to survive. This ended up being a slightly heavy-handed morality tale about race allowing the Almeida audience to give themselves a good pat on the back for their collective tolerance. Though it seems that’s how The Shelter was written in 1961 and must have been way ahead of its day. With the first more subtly allegorical story about trying to out an alien bus passenger you can see there’s a bit of a fear of foreigners theme developing.

Time has dictated that what we once may have been spooked by now is more amusing than creepy but we did thoroughly enjoy the Will Houstoun and Richard Wiseman illusions, especially running gags/illusions concerning cigarettes and a newspaper front page.

The director’s Annie Get Your Gun may have been much more shocking, but this is much more fun.

Rating

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