Words by Daniella Harrison
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my fond and fervent hope that you enjoy this review. Or is it a review? *squints into the void*
Regardless, I am fondly asked to remind you that I am but one writer, one writer shouting into the abyss of the online world, a world full of reviews and opinions and ideas. One person in the vast open space of this world, and it is up to you whether you choose to listen to these ideas, or unlock the door and experience it for yourself. Experience what, you may ask?
The Twilight Zone.
Based on a cult 1960s US television series, The Twilight Zone is premiering now at a small, safe, stylish theatre in Islington – the Almeida. The play, put together by Anne Washburn from a select few episodes from the TZ canon, explores the overarching theme of the potency of imagination – what do we imagine, is imagining dangerous, does imagining something mean it is not real? – The plots from the episodes interweave as the actors multirole a range of kooky characters, from secret aliens and astronauts to a ventriloquist and a strange cat-lady.
Those damn actors, with their impeccable American accents and comic timing. One would think a play based on something so well-known would be a pastiche, a bit of a joke, but not here. Instead, we see some incredibly strong acting as an ensemble but there are also some real standout performances. Lizzy Connolly’s singing voice unexpectedly appears and soars through the void like a meteor, bringing the house down at what I thought was the close of act one (alas, I was mistaken) whilst Adriana Bertola’s facial expressions as a variety of creepy youngsters send chills down my vertebral column, or spine, to you. Richard Jones’ direction is fantastic, transferring the stories from screen to stage with ease.
It is time to acknowledge that elephant in the room. What if, like me, you are unacquainted with the television series? Would you feel out of place and uncomfortable in your comfortable little seat? Would you miss out on all of the jokes, the references, maybe the plot itself? In short, the answer is no. The production remains true to the television show, with a crisp black and white box aesthetic (designed by Paul Steinberg), with stars twinkling all over it, giving the illusion that we are, in fact, in space. It’s rather quirky and has a sophisticated childishness to it. However, because of the way the storylines are chopped and pieced together, it still feels somewhat fresh and accessible to newcomers; no prior knowledge is needed to simply enjoy.
Of course, there are a few visual references which a newcomer may not recognise, such as the floating/spinning equation and eye in scene changes, which echo the show’s title sequence, but as a piece, the production makes sure that it takes the audience on a journey which is set apart from the TV show, and is a piece of art in its own right.
And, goodness, it is funny. Perhaps not a laugh-out-loud, side-tickling, slapstick funny, but a delightfully quirky type of funny. A funny that has you smirking, that will tickle those of you that have the streak of dark humour. It is pure entertainment, but underneath that, there are some scenes chosen which deal with the idea of segregation and hate – some food for thought underneath the sci-fi and whimsy.
In this middle ground between politics and entertainment, of science and superstition, we enter this incredible theatrical space, and after leaving it, whether you were before or not, you will become a card-carrying member of
The Twilight Zone.
** hey, it’s me now, writing as Daniella rather than imitating how they speak at some moments in TZ. Like I said, I’ve never watched the TV show before so I was a pretty blank slate going into it. I really enjoyed the show, though halfway through it I did get a little sleepy, but woke up during the amazingly weird cabaret section. It took me a little while to get used to all the different stories and not all of them having a resolution, but began to love them – I loved the dark, kind of bland humour, and the acting was surprisingly (bad choice of word) good for a show which so easily could have felt like a bit of a marketing/nostalgia trip. But it wasn’t.