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Anne Washburn, The Twilight Zone, 2019
© Andy Parsons

Anne Washburn: ‘Trump kind of is Bart Simpson’

The brilliant, divisive US playwright has scored her first West End hit with her adaptation of seminal sci-fi TV show ‘The Twilight Zone’

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

What’s your relationship with the original TV show?

‘Every American knows it. For my generation, it’s the sort of thing a babysitter might have let you watch a repeat of when you weren’t supposed to. As I was trying to decide which episodes to use I was polling anybody: “Which episode traumatised you as a child?” And no one said, “What a funny question.” They said, “It  was this one.”’

Some of it stands up amazingly and some of the stuff in the show now feels very funny…

‘After I said yes to this project, my next task was to watch all 156 episodes. So I picked three at random and they were, shall we say, “non-lasting” episodes and I thought: Holy fuck, what have I gotten myself into? Then I calmed down and started watching from the beginning. Some are dreadful, some are still fabulous and have a lasting impact.’

Is it nice to have a West End show?

‘Okay, I know this sounds weird but I really do feel like it’s [‘Twilight Zone’ creator] Rod Serling having a transfer. I’m implicated in this evening, but I feel like the qualities that made it are his. It’s delightful to come along for the ride, though.’

It’s very fun, whereas your other plays are more, er, ‘divisive’?

‘I don’t set out to be a non-pleasurable playwright, I truly don’t! Because going to the theatre is an investment of money and time, I would love it if, to the degree that I am personally responsible for the experience anybody had in the theatre, it was able to be the best experience in their life.’

Your other current play, ‘Shipwreck’, features Donald Trump as a character: was that difficult to write?

‘Those scenes were the hardest. The scene where he’s duking it out with [George W] Bush, I wanted him to have a heroic quality. But that was hard, hard, hard to write because I kept really wanting to undermine it. We live in a world of Trump satire and that’s me just trying to push against that, [do] something a little different.’

You’re in Brexit Britain with a show about Trump. Are there parallels?

‘Something I think about a lot is the people in the North Tower on 9/11. After the South Tower collapsed, some of them left, but most people stayed because they didn’t think it would happen to them, and they were told to stay, and I think I would have stayed. Brexit and Trump feel the same: everyone knows something is very wrong, but we’d rather wait and see than take action.’

You’ve done shows about ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Simpsons’ – do you see Trump as a pop-cultural figure too?

‘Oh my God, he kind of is Bart Simpson – oh, whoa.’

‘The Twilight Zone’ is at the Ambassadors Theatre until Jun 1.

‘Shipwreck’ is at the Almeida Theatre until Mar 30.

New theatre this month

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