Written by Anne Washburn (Adapting stories by Richard Matheson, Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont)
Directed by Richard Jones
Starring Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Franc Ashman, Adrianna Bertola, Lizzy Connolly, Amy Griffiths, Neil Haigh, Cosmo Jarvis, John Marquez, Matthew Needham and Sam Swainsbury
Set design by Paul Steinberg
On at the Almeida Theatre, London until 27 January 2018
From the moment you step into the theatre, it’s clear that Anne Washburn’s script has embraced the classic show’s willingness to play with its audience. The set is just that; a gigantic TV set. The cast all pull multiple duties as various characters and the show itself adapts eight individual episodes of the original show.
What makes it work though is how those stories flow around one another. The final section, adapted from ‘The Shelter’, haunts earlier stories via a TV set. ‘Eye of the Beholder’ plays out as a near silent interlude and there’s a recurrent gag involving the disappearing astronauts from ‘And If The Sky Was Opened’ that’s genuinely chilling. The stories bleed into and around one another and after a while, out into the world too. The lead character of ‘Perchance to Dream’, about a man terrified to sleep, is played by John Marquez. When that story ends, Marquez returns as both the man and show creator Rod Serling, trapped inside the Twilight Zone. Even prior to that, Serling is a constant presence. In a wonderfully executed running gag, each time a story draws to a close a character is ‘possessed’ by Serling. A cigarette appears from nowhere, they address the audience directly and are interrupted before they get to say the words ‘…The Twilight Zone’.
That willingness to play with how these stories work means the show is constantly surprising. That surprise is in turn powered by the constant shifts in tone and genre. The first story we see is a jet/black comedy, the last is a horror story where the monster is us. In between we get psychological horror, doomed romance and what happens when feral physics collides with American domestic life. All of it works, often brilliantly and a massive part of that is the cast. Franc Ashman and Sam Swainsbury are particularly impressive as the star-crossed lovers. Cosmo Jarvis also impresses as a wide variety of characters. Lizzy Connolly’s supernatural go-go girl is a glorious nightmare while Oliver Alvin-Wilson excels as several stories’ calm, pragmatic anchor character. They’re the standouts but this is a fiercely strong cast and there’s a tangible sense of everyone involved getting the joke and running with it.
This is a show unlike any other, inspired by a show unlike any other. It’s endlessly playful, relentlessly inventive and has an honest to God song and dance number in the first act. Playful, horrific, compassionate, funny and cool this is a salute to one of the greatest TV shows of all time and a hell of a show in its own right. If you’re in or near London, do go. It’s absolutely worth spending some time in the twilight zone.