Welcome to another theatrical dimension, beyond which there may be no clear sense of purpose. A dimension that at times is just a fun, semi-respectful staging of a TV Classic, but at others takes itself too seriously to unnecessarily attempt making some other point. It is the middle ground between actors playing characters as you might expect, and actors playing ‘the actors playing’ the characters... between clever audio visual trickery to make you jump in your seats, and simple umbrellas being rotated by Oompah Loompah-type supernumeraries, to mock the ‘scientific unknown’. They may be wanting us to travel through another dimension, but the travelling is confused, disjointed and ultimately loses its way as it takes us on this journey to a dimension called...
Once this episode has been done, there is a complete drop of energy in the theatre – cast and audience alike.
No matter your age - or even if you’ve ever actually watched an episode - you’re likely to be able to finish the sentence spoken by Rod Serling at the opening and closing of most of the episdoes in the original series of The Twilight Zone; eight of which have been adapted here for the stage by Anna Washburn. Most of the actors get a chance to do an impression of Serling’s recognisably clipped delivery at some point in the proceedings - leaving their fellow cast members looking on bemused – creating an atmosphere of this being a gentle shared joke, that we are very much a part of.
The simple staging here could be the bedroom wallpaper dreamt of by any 10-year old fan of William Hartnell's Doctor Who; all black with just white swirls, depicting the most simple representation of the galaxy. It allows the chosen episodes to seamlessly intertwine, as hidden doors swing open and shut for simple tweaks to furniture to create new settings. For the first act, Washburn has weaved key elements from episodes around each other so they overlap, repeat, pick up and underline recurrent themes. Even without knowing the episodes, you'll recognise ideas like the human ventriloquist dummy, the girl lost in "another dimension” (“my best guess” says the physicist in that tale), an alien being hidden in plain sight… Some of these morals get resolved, others don’t, with Serling’s monologues not seeking to mark any particular point in the process other than to remind us of their origins.
The cast of ten hurry through the different roles, most taking a turn at being the tortured central character at the heart of a Twilight Zone twist. It retains the televisual style of the time where simple personality signifiers are more important than any attempt at depth, and so we have a full sixties gamut of ages, races, heights (more important than you think when it comes to power play and wearing alien costumes) and a 60/40 gender split. Perhaps our current moans of short attention spans in an audience is nothing to do with the muti-channel, internet of things world we live in as there’s no thinking to be done here in a 50 year old world. It’s like skipping through a Best Of, then skipping more to the Highlights, pausing, going off and getting a beer, rewinding and watching some other bits - a little messy perhaps, but undemanding fun. Or as I heard someone in the interval put it more eloquently, “Yeah, I’ve no idea what’s going on really but it’s a good laugh. I love this kinda shit”.
A great deal of Act Two will either make or break the night for you though. The weaving and rambling of the stories, the little bits of magic taking place on stage and the voices seeming to come around you from all sides of the theatre before you see the speaker, all still abound (it’s not often one calls out sound design but Sarah Angliss and Christopher Shutt deserve recogntion for their aural trickery). But then Washburn suddenly seems to take an altogether different approach to her adaptation that stands out as unusual in this context.
What seems like the entire episode of The Shelter is suddenly played out in the most straightforward and linear style of the night (as though merely lifted off the screen and plopped on the stage). It’s one of the more politically charged episodes that Serling used to use the show’s vehicle to “sneak in” as there’s no spooky shocker here apart from the deep rooted prejudices revealed when an imminent nuclear threat removes any social niceties in the battle for survival. It’s a strong point to make, and well played by most the entire cast (the longest time for the stage to be this full) so may make you feel dramatically satisfied. The problem is that it just doesn’t fit in the show we have been watching up to then – it’s not even been built to in any way - and so it drains the pace and disregards what has come before as though that was just an excruiatingy long build up to what the company really wanted to do.
Once this episode has been done, there is a complete drop of energy in the theatre – cast and audience alike. Though it may never have had clarity of journey beforehand, it now feels completely lost. After trying to revert back to the choreogaphy of the other episodes, the final representation of Serling is by a man who has been pulled from another tale. The various protagonists converge awkwardly (we did realise they were actors and it wasn’t real, if that’s the point being made) and there’s about three times when it feels ready to finish. But rather than allow this to happen, the engine keeps puttering on, until the last seemingly endless and tedious monologue takes all the goodwill we have shared and just spits it right back at us. I’m sure some point was being made about imagination here but I was busy imagining how much happier I would have been if I’d left at the interval. To go from sharing a caring pastiche to attemping an ill-fitting didactism could almost make this Twilight a No-Go Zone.