For the first time in history, the Almeida Theatre play host to the world premiere of The Twilight Zone. Originally created by Rod Serling, the American television series ran for five seasons on CBS from 1958-1964. Consisting of strings of unrelated dramas, The Twilight Zone follows characters in connection with supernatural events. Now adapted for the stage by playwright Anne Washburn, the production takes its inspiration from eight different episodes within Serling’s paranormal archive. Directed by the Olivier award-winner Richard Jones, a cast of ten find themselves thrust into the most unusual of circumstances. According to legend, these characters are said to have “crossed over to The Twilight Zone”, an area beyond all imagining.
It is a world between worlds. Guarded by a screen branded with the CBS logo, the play appears to unfold within a television set. Designed by Paul Steinburg, the walls and floor are painted by outer space, with doors nestled between the great expanses of constellations. Through these voids come people dressed in greying vintage clothing and salt and pepper places glinting with silvery aluminium. There is no exact science behind the way that these locations are visited, though the manner in which they appear is completely seamless. Each story travels back and forth through time along the narrative chain, frequently disrupted by a revolving eye and Einstein’s special relativity equation.
A classic TV rises and falls above the action, switching between static and a black and white birthday party. It carves its way through the vacuum to deliver messages to the characters, aided by disembodied recordings and a hair-raising score designed by Sarah Angliss. The cast multi-role throughout and take to different bodies with ease – Cosmo Jarvis’s pneumatic laugh and Lizzy Connolly’s musical number are particularly unforgettable. Illusions are also used to maximum effect, with fear and comedy attached to objects that appear and disappear. Cigarettes materialise between the index and third finger despite never having smoked, and people are removed from newly made history as if they had never existed.
It is a place between places. As a cheap diner folded in on itself to become a bedroom belonging to a young girl, a mirage of an alien wearing sparkling silver platforms ghosts through a psychiatrist’s office. From there, a space station is mislaid by a dream before landing on an apocalypse-proof shelter, a place that brings to life a link between the culture of science fiction and the historical treatment of ‘the other’. What made Washburn’s script so undeniably impactful is this layering of humour and philosophical rhetoric, ultimately questioning how human nature changes when its vessel is under threat.
The Twilight Zone pushes the boundaries of theatre both literally and metaphorically. A limitless geography of The Space Age is explored across the evening, with devices such as the dramatic aside bringing a new metaphysical significance to the production. By turning the border between the audience and performer into fiction, the experience questions many of the facts surrounding live performance. The end result is indeed a dimension without dimensions and undoubtedly unlike anything you will have ever seen before.
The Twilight Zone is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 27 January 2018
Photo: Marc Brenner