Almeida Theatre, London – until 27 January 2018
“We’re not looking for a needle in a haystack but for an alien in a diner”… There’s a scene in the second half of The Twilight Zone which is almost unbearably, poignantly astute on the subject of race relations in the US. Never mind that it was written in the 60s, it says so much about the America of today that it can’t help but chill the bone about the predictability of the baser notes of human nature. It is though, the only moment in this theatrical adaptation of the classic TV show that registered any real impact with me.
Anne Washburn (she of the extraordinary Mr Burns) has fashioned this play out of eight of the stories told by The Twilight Zone and presents them as if shuffling a pack of cards. Some stories broken up and interwoven with each other, some told in toto, all seeking to disrupt and disturb with shocks and scares and no little amount of wry humour too. It makes for a strangely suitable piece of counter-intuitive festive programming but ultimately felt insubstantial to me.
It looks amazing in the black, greys and whites of Paul Steinberg’s star-sprinkled, retro-TV-set influenced design and Nicky Gillibrand’s eye-catching costumes which allow the company to alternately stand out from the crowd or blend into the background. And director Richard Jones has gathered a strong team of actors from perennial fave Sam Swainsbury to Franc Ashman to original Matilda Adrianna Bertola who all multi-role vividly.
But as we search for aliens or dimensional portholes, or run from scary puppets or singing Lizzy Connollys, the cumulative effect was inconsequential. As we laughed at yet another cigarette gag (strong illusion work from Richard Wiseman and Will Houstoun) or fourth-wall-breaking gurn, all the work of Sarah Angliss’ brilliantly atmospheric sound dissipated. I just couldn’t work out what The Twilight Zone was trying to say. But that second act bit is still amazing.