The Twilight Zone at the Almeida Theatre
Anne Washburn’s adaptation of The Twilight Zone is so kitsch and meta it’s as if the giant CBS eye plastered on the stage curtain is winking at the audience. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of love for Rod Serling’s seminal show in the Almeida’s production, however, or that it completely avoids the chance to make a serious point or two.
Washburn has taken eight episodes of the TV show – many dealing with identity and memory, be it on a personal level or something larger – and spliced them together in a way that strips out linearity and swaps in a healthy dose of self-awareness. It’s almost like she wants the audience to admire the craft of the original stories, stacking up similar sections to show the cogs of their infamous twists.
Richard Jones basically directs the adaptation as if it’s a comedy, mining each scene for its awkward 60s stiffness while avoiding a turn into complete parody. The cast tread the same line, a balancing act between sincerity and satire. All this is encased in Paul Steinberg’s giant TV screen full of static (or the sparkling darkness of another dimension). Everything from the outfits to the set is designed to capture the monochrome nature of the original: doors dominate, “crossing over” from white in the first half to a set-matching blackness in the second; scene changes are done by the cast dressed as creepy creatures of the void, with long raincoats and huge black goggles.
The sole tale told from start to finish with no interruptions is based on Serling’s The Shelter, where suburban friends shed the veneer of civility as they argue outside the locked door of their neighbour’s nuclear bunker. The play is constructed as such that when we’re suddenly presented with an unbroken, serious narrative it’s like Washburn is saying, “Oi, pay attention”. It’s the only story offered that feels pertinent to now – not just a potentially North Korea-related nuclear attack (or global environmental catastrophe) but the racial and class divisions that quickly bubble to the surface – and carries even more weight because of it.
It may be a stretch, but Washburn’s work on The Twilight Zone seems to share a certain amount of DNA with her masterpiece Mr Burns. Like at some point in the distant future the scripts for Serling’s show have been found shuffled up, or half remembered, by a theatre troupe, a la episodes of The Simpsons in her previous Almeida production. It’s Washburn once again looking at what survives of “canonical” works, and how it’s in our nature to rework stories whether we’re aware of it or not.
Photo: Marc Brenner
The Twilight Zone is at the Almeida Theatre from 5th December 2017 until 27th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.