There’s something pleasantly jarring about seeing Anne Washburn’s weird and fondly mocking adaptation of The Twilight Zone in the West End: the iconic sci-fi and mystery series that celebrated the capabilities of TV has been unstitched and woven back together in the chocolate box of the Ambassadors in a way that celebrates what theatre can do.
On one level it feels like an odd choice for a West End transfer. The show consists of seven or so strange tales from the 1960s American anthology series mashed up and blended together. The added layer of opacity and bizarreness that Washburn brings to it doesn’t make it an instant crowd-pleaser.
The proscenium arch, however, adds a TV-style framing that works really well, even if the slightly larger size of the Ambassadors lessens some of the claustrophobia that made its Almeida run so effectively spooky.
The strength of Washburn’s adaptation is in the way it deliberately doesn’t overreach what you can do on stage. It’s not trying to imitate TV. Instead Washburn and director Richard Jones maintain the original show’s wobbly aesthetic, its lo-fi charm, and find ways to translate it.
That means lots of magic tricks (where do those cigarettes keep coming from?) – some of which are given away for comic effect, some of which are genuinely bamboozling – and that the cast affect a slightly arch, self-aware way of performing, almost as if the actors are looking at the camera out of the corner of their eye.
There are many lovely details and flourishes, like the stagehands in goggles and star-patterned smocks that match the set, proliferating on stage and hiding like chameleons in the background. Each element – from Jones’ direction to Paul Steinberg’s set and Sarah Angliss and Christopher Shutt’s sound design – is incredibly well done and, even if the show doesn’t always hang together as a whole, it’s still enjoyable and entertaining.