The Twilight Zone review: Clever but not quite creepy enough ★★★

The stage adaptation of Rod Sterling's sci-fi TV series is entertaining but lacks thrills, says Tony Peters

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Rod Serling’s TV series The Twilight Zone that ran for five seasons between 1959 and 1964 is rightly regarded as a bona fide classic. It was responsible for introducing a mix of sci-fi, fantasy and psychological thrills to a mainstream audience and has influenced a number of directors and writers since. It spawned a feature film in 1983 and various TV revivals over the years, the latest from original broadcaster CBS is in production at the moment with Jordan Peele as narrator.

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So, all seminal stuff then. With revivals and the film being of variable quality though, director Richard Jones and writer Anne Washburn have thankfully used the original series as the template for this stage adaptation. Costume designer Nicky Gillibrand cleverly uses a monochrome palette to ape the show’s black and white footage to stunning effect. While Stephen La Rivere and Andrew T Smith nicely use 1950s-style graphics for the animated inserts.

Washburn has adapted eight stories, written by Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, and rather than playing them episodically has interwoven plots — including alien interlopers, mysteriously missing airmen, a child’s bedroom being the portal to a different dimension, neighbours at each other’s throats in the face of an imminent missile attack — into a single narrative.

With some stories inevitably being stronger than others this makes for an unevenness in pace, meaning that  the twists and surprises don’t have the same impact as if we’d seen each story unfolding in sequence. Put bluntly, it’s just not creepy enough.

Just as the series had moments of humour, thankfully Jones and Washburn don’t take things too seriously and the play works best when played for laughs and as an affectionate pastiche; the excellent 13-strong cast playing multiple roles and neatly capturing the style of acting that obviously now appears a touch hammy sixty years on. And the production is enhanced by illusions created by Richard Wiseman and Will Houston, including a running gag about smoking.

The Twilight Zone is going to be one for the fans, and while it’s entertaining enough, it’s difficult to see it really capturing the imagination of newcomers.

Tony Peters

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The Twilight Zone is at the Ambassadors Theatre until 1 June