BWW Review: THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Ambassadors Theatre
Before Black Mirror, there was The Twilight Zone. First aired in 1959, the series was presented by Rod Serling, who had risen to prominence as a writer of television dramas alongside being a commentator of the medium.
The characters in his new show found themselves forced to deal with singular and disturbing issues. The standalone episodes introduced the general public to science fiction and fantasy tropes - therefore establishing the well-known "twilight zone". Now, the popular franchise is landing in the West End after a sell-out run at the Almeida Theatre last year.
Adapted by Anne Washburn, it takes the soul of the original material and translates it for the stage with plenty of tricks and curious tales. Even those less familiar with the obscure references will recognise nods to early stories which have become embedded in pop culture - like the 1960 episode "Eye of the Beholder" and a special appearance by a Kanamit, an alien race with quite a large and recognisable forehead first introduced in the third season.
Director Richard Jones intertwines the array of tales and keeps them going at a rhythmic pace. He creates a compelling collection, however it has the tendency to run in circles and feels too long as a result. Besides the natural outcome of putting on stage an assortment of plots, his direction is precise and aesthetically pleasing.
In this last element lies the real strength of the piece. Its visuals are unquestionably enthralling: from the black box that with hundreds of stars that hosts the action to the greyscale attires, Paul Steinberg and Nicky Gillibrand (set and costumes respectively) transport the audience to an entirely different universe made of ambiguity and mistrust.
The cast become a multitude of unique characters, with Natasha J. Barnes soaring to deliver an exquisite performance as Ethel. They toy with reality and tone as they look straight out of Sixties television programmes, with slightly declamatory twangs that fit in perfectly with the vibe built by Jones.
It's certainly a show that needs to be met halfway, as well as not taken too seriously. Even if it does tackle social issues and ingrained human fears, the aesthetic elements of the play take over in a delightful display of theatrical artifice. Once the magic tricks start rolling and the slight silliness of it all is accepted at face value, The Twilight Zone is as enticing as it is captivating.
Photo credit: Matt Crockett