Theatre review: The Twilight Zone

John Nathan loves a bit of nostalgia


With The Exorcist currently in the West End, the Almeida’s seasonal offering could be described as the latest example of nostalgic horror.

Here, you can cuddle up to no less than eight unsettling tales in which sci-fi meets the paranormal from the famous black-and-white 1960s TV show. For those who remember it, Bernard Herrmann’s theme tune was the perfect accompaniment to anything unexplained: the time those keys moved from where you left them; the moment when that picture on the wall fell from its hook.

In American writer Anne Washburn’s adaptation it serenades such Twilight Zone tales as Nightmare As A Child in which a woman encounters a little girl who warns her about an impending visit from a stranger.

In When The Sky Was Opened three astronauts return to earth to find a world that never knew they existed, and in Perchance to Dream a man can’t sleep for fear that his dreams will kill him.

All intersect as seamlessly as cogs in a watch.

Richard Jones’s production replicates an era of black-and-white TV with a stage built to resemble an old-fashioned goggle box. But his intentionally stilted cast, led by the perfectly wooden John Marquez as the mysterious narrator, conjure a perfect blend of ironic seriousness which can be as funny as it is frightening. That story with the girl is genuinely chilling. The one about the stranded bus passengers and the cop who thinks one of them might be an alien hilariously captures the camp and earnest tone of the original.

Washburn is a writer who finds the profound in popular culture. In Mr Burns, her hugely underrated play first seen here in 2014, she imagines a future in which the world’s culture and belief systems are based entirely on The Simpsons. And, here, these tales of the unexpected (sorry, wrong show) climax in a story originally aired as The Shelter in which members of a suburban community under imminent threat of nuclear attack turn on each other in a race war.

Without explicitly saying so, the message that Trump could be accused of making both elements of that tale more likely rings out clearly. No seasonal offering is more nostalgic or more political. In that sense The Twilight Zone is this year’s antidote to goodwill. And the only snow on view is the spooky kind that appears as interference on old black-and-white TVs.

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