Ambassadors Theatre, London – until 1 June 2019
Guest reviewer: Franco Milazzo
You’d need a bus pass to actually remember it, but few TV series from the late fifties made as much of an impact as The Twilight Zone. At the dawn of television drama, the show transcended its horror and sci-fi underpinnings with ingenious twists and an ability to lead viewers from relatable everyday scenarios to beguiling and ironic conclusions.
Rod Serling’s creation is remembered as much as a triumph of imagination over production values and for the iconic theme tune; its cultural resonance can be measured by its three revivals with the newest version out sometime this year and by how its style has been imitated far and wide, not least by shows like The Outer Limits and Black Mirror.
This latest stage incarnation is based around eight original episodes (six of which were penned by series creator Serling himself). Adapted by Anne Washburn (Mr Burns), this production debuted at the Almeida but re-materialises in the West End at the Ambassadors.
On the face of it, this is an honest take on the original series and a generation fraught with thoughts of war and technological advances. The contemporary themes are all present and correct (aliens, check; nuclear armageddon, check; space travel checkity check check) and there is abundant homage to the inexpensive props and recycled sets used by the show half a century ago.
The 13-strong ensemble is uniformly excellent in their roles and the light and sound crew try hard to bring out the mystical nature of Serling’s fantastic show. In fact, there’s nothing really wrong with this play apart from everything else.
The Twilight Zone stories all generally followed a familiar pattern: we would be introduced to the characters and the setting before being led down the garden path of normality and then, insidiously or suddenly, there was a grand reveal.
Washburn and director Richard Jones have abandoned that approach by their clumsy mashing of the plots of the eight individual episodes: in one case, a jolly song-and-dance number from one episode immediately precedes the emotional finale of another. It’s cut and pasted for the attention-span-deficient and the overall effect greatly deflates the drama throughout.
Adding insult to injury are the frequent anachronous outbreaks of vaudeville, clumsy fourth-wall breaks and the sacrifice of dramatic nuance and tension to gags and magic tricks cheaper than the props.
Maybe in a far-off dimension of time and space, at the crossroads of imagination and reality, our descendants will discover a stage adaption of The Twilight Zone which will fill them with the wonder and mystery of the original.
But not here.
The Twilight Zone. Ambassadors Theatre until 1 June 2019.