Twilight Zone at the Almeida: ‘Everyone’s repressed and unemotional’
PUBLISHED: 15:30 06 December 2017
‘Between light and shadow, science and superstition, fear and knowledge is a dimension of imagination. An area we call the Twilight Zone.’
Between 1959 and 1964, American TV audiences were gripped by the spinechilling twists in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.
Against a backdrop of McCarthyism, civil rights and the Cold War these episodes mined sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural and horror genres while trading on a paranoid era that spawned a thousand conspiracy theories.
The writers also managed to weave in concerns about racism, government and society.
Anne Washburn, who previously adapted Simpsons episodes for Mr Burns at the Almeida, returns to the Islington venue to do the same for the infuential black and white series while perhaps passing comment on a certain White House occupant.
Episodes are recreated, and one re-written, according to Amy Griffiths, who is among the ensemble cast playing multiple characters.
“I’d never seen it before, I only knew the theme tune – my generation grew up watching the X Files, or today’s equivalent is probably Stranger Things. It’s very much about the unknown and what ifs. You had a lot of UFO sightings in that period. There was little evidence to prove it, and it freaked everyone out.”
Amy’s whose past performances range from Truly Scumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to a sex worker in the musical London Road, adds: “Seeing the originals can be distracting if you feel you are replicating something already done. I’ve decided just to approach it as an original play.”
The setting is “very 1950s, Mad Men era in families or small communities”.
“Everyone’s quite repressed, and unemotional, they feel they are in control and everything is perfect.”
Accents are something of a Twilight Zone too: “Transatlantic but with a proper almost British twang.”
And Sarah Angliss’ eerie sound design uses the original score to “add drama and suspense”.
“The episodes were structured to be unnerving, funny but leave uncertainty about what’s just happened. Anne has done a terrific job being sensitive to those who will want to see what they recognise as the Twilight Zone, but to also make a brand new play that’s interesting to an audience of all generations.
“I find the episode she has re written the most powerful. It’s very much about 21st Century American politics; race, identity, community, how we react in a crisis. It’s as relevant today as it was in the 50s.”
December 4 until January 17. Almeida.co.uk