FringeReview UK 2017
Richard Jones directs a swirl of an ensemble through the star-flecked set by Paul Steinberg which pulsates with Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting, with the black and white conceit extended. Sarah Angliss’ composition and sound, riffing on the original, Christopher Shutt’s sound envelope and Stephen Bentley-Klein’s music direction of himself and two musicians.
Here be vanishings. Even in the eight narratives of the classic American sci-fi series of programmes intercut and dramatized by Ann Washburn (who also brought Mr Burns to the Almeida), certain narratives even disappear, for instance most of what’s one of the finest, Rod Serling’s Eye of the Beholder. Fragments appear on a screen. Blink and you miss a strand in The Twilight Zone.
Richard Jones directs, even dissects a swirl of an ensemble through the star-flecked set by Paul Steinberg which pulsates with Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting, with the black and white conceit extended to an ancient TV swung-to white doors and spinning watchface discs nightmaring straight out of the late-noir TV series props that inspire these back-to-the-past’s-future’s dream of itself.
John Marquez’ iron-voiced Narrator is one of the few recurring stabilities in a quick-change of narrative melts. When it’s all over what you return to is what haunts the heart, not head. Human agency, often what drove the best of the originals, is what works here too. Washburn’s theatrical treatment renders a touching service as well as homage to these, though the wildering and bewildering self-consciousness of some narratives fall a little flat.
We get the guitar-spooked theme Sarah Angliss’ composition and sound, riffing on the original, Christopher Shutt’s sound envelope and Stephen Bentley-Klein’s music direction of himself and two musicians. It’s lively stuff and this plate-in-air production needs constant movement for fear of a crash. Overall Washburn might have relied on at least two fewer episodes, and trusted the material more.
One of the more solidly realised is also Serling’s black little comedy Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up? with its comedic killer-punch deferred. The central, inevitably recurring Perchance to Dream has John Marquez’ literally heart-sore Hall pursued by Lizzy Connolly’s Maja, a feline femme fatale full of sly fun. It’s Charles Beaumont’s only contribution from the series’ first year (1959) and Washburn enjoys filleting it as a leitmotif, but it’s over-extended for its payoff.
Serling’s the presiding genius, with the best stories coming late (1964) like The Long Morrow with its touching narrative of a man forty (here, fifty-two) years in space on a mission obsolete as soon as he’s blasted off. He’s in cryogenics but the woman he’s just fallen in love with will be old. There’s a double twist. With Franc Ashman and Sam Swainsbury as the literally star-crossed lovers this has more tenderness than all the rest put together.
Another vintage Serling from 1961 is The shelter, where most of the ensemble languish outside the only shelter constructed by a doctor and his family, squabbling over who should demand to enter it, already sealed off with a nuclear attack seemingly imminent. This is explosive social commentary, again outside the twilit flatness elsewhere. It’s as if Arthur Miller were asked to write a brief TV chip of social realism, and for its period its thrilling and disturbing to find a racist bigot both mouthing off and the reaction of others to claims of primacy, over who should be let in, as if this is horribly USA 2017. Matthew Needham’s Harlowe the first to be excluded acts as a memorable voice of reason, Swainsbury excellent as the bigoted Weiss and Oliver Alvin-Wilson as Martin who points out slave ships with his people arrived in 1619. Cosmo Jarvis, another butt of Weiss, orchestrates a chillingly contemporary witness as Henderson the educated immigrant experiencing a tang of non-acceptance.
Other stories such as Richard Matheson’s Little Girl Lost and When The Sky Opened (screen-written by Serling) explore dimensional vanishing, and Serling’s own Nightmare as a Child a generic thriller with Amy Griffiths despite its diffraction is satisfying.
Perhaps less might have been more. I’d like to see a more thorough-going homage to Serling’s work in particular and it’s good he’s at least well-represented here. His acute questioning, exploration of a more human agency and refusal to play too much with inexplicable spectacle marks him out as a more earthy but far more imaginative writer too. His stories are still absolutely contemporary ones: the others have dated as the future often does. The Beaumont and Matheson pieces whilst great fun have less truth to them, simply don’t explore why we’re suddenly thrust into an uncanny fourth dimension when the stories possess merely one. I’d stick with Serling’s three. The fourth’s implied.