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Based on George A. Romero’s 1968 work of the same name, Night of the Living Dead Live! brings together the chilling horror of the groundbreaking feature-length film with an unashamed dose of dry wit, knowing winks, and audience interaction.
Hosted by the Pleasance Theatre, nestled in North London and boasting a courtyard bar for some pre- and post-show drinks, the production puts the audience in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Premium seating places ticket holders right onto the stage, primed for a serious dose of blood splatter, while the front rows are in for a fair share of the action as Night of the Living Dead Live! presents a theatre experience like no other.
Here’s what you need to know.
Much like Romero’s iconic film, Night of the Living Dead! Live centres around the fallout of radiation which has turned everyday humans into flesh-eating, murderous creatures. A group of strangers find themselves holed up in an unstable house, forced to decide whether safety is secured in the escape route-less basement, or among the rickety wooden windows on the ground floor.
Together they scheme to fight their way out of the house, urged by a radio broadcast to reach an evacuation point. With each option seemingly as dangerous as the next, Night of the Living Dead! Live explores various solutions with horrific and comedic consequences. Just how will the group of strangers reach safety?
The production stars Ashley Samuels as Ben, the self-appointed leader who battles with power-struggles, hysteria and conflicting priorities in the ever-fractured group. Samuels, who recent starred in Fun Home and Motown The Musical, is joined by last year’s Hello Magazine Rising Star award winner Jennifer Harding as Helen, a wife and mother with a cutting tongue, and as one-half of a sickeningly infatuated couple, Judy. Harding received multiple award nominations for her turn in The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
Marc Picketing plays volatile husband and father Harry, known for his portrayal of young Sheriff Enoch Thompson in Boardwalk Empire. Young Scottish Musical Theatre Performer of the Year Award winner Mari McGinlay plays the shock-suffering Barbra, alongside Mike Bodie (The Comedy About A Bank Robbery) as Chief McClelland and Tama Phethean (The Great Duke of Florence, The False One) as the easily influenced Tom.
A play of two halves, Night of the Living Dead Live! begins as an homage to the best of b-movie horror. Perfectly awkward and suitably eerie, the story creepily unfolds in black and white on a stage depicting a weathered wooden house. Among the select theatre-goers sat on the stage – part of the aptly named Splatter Zone experience – unfurls a tale of survival and fear. The loud crashes and bloody violence are broken by moments of clever slapstick; a glowing taxidermic weasel sings, and in a brilliantly directed sequence the radio offers unwanted and contradictory advice much to the detriment of the character following its instruction.
It sets the tone for things to come, as the play swiftly swirls into the brilliantly ridiculous. Night of the Living Dead Live! reimagines the tropes of b-movie horror, with tongue-in-cheek commentary on today. What would happen if the women were in charge (much to the frustration of the 1960s characters)? What would happen if each sacrificed themselves for the greater good? And of course the age old question, is the basement truly the safest place to hide?
As the pace ramps up, so does the comedy. What starts as a nod to horror cliches ends in a climax of gratuitously bloody battle, body parts, flying limbs and laughs. The cast themselves are almost literally thrown from one situation to the next, breaking the fourth wall with a series of quick witted meta-jokes delivered with the spot on comedic timing that underpins the entire performance. By its closing moments the audience are as much part of the celebration as they are the horror. And beware, the splatter zones more than lives up to their name.
Night of the Living Dead Live! is now open at the London’s Pleasance Theatre, booking until 8 June 2019.
Tickets for Night of the Living Dead Live! are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.
Photos by Claire Bilyard