Night of the Living Dead Live! – Pleasance Theatre, London

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In 1968, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the face of horror from that of a fantasy creature, lurking in the shadows, shying from garlic and sunlight, to the very real threat of a savage virus, turning every Tom, Dick, and milkman into a brain dead cannibal, motivated only by the hunt for living human flesh (and brains, obviously we can’t forget the brains…). The story of strangers holed up in a barn waiting for rescue has gone on to spawn countless tales of zombie attack, from it’s own sequels and spin-offs, right up the latest offerings including the likes of Netflix’s Black Summer.

Night of the Living Dead Live! tinkers with things in an altogether different way. With a main cast of six played by only five actors, many of the laughs come from a self-referential style of comedy, along with the occasional breaking of the forth wall. Audience members signed up to enter the SPLATTERZONE are positioned on the spinning stage in protective clothing, right in the heart of the action. Initially this is a little off-putting, but eventually you barely notice them. Subtle use of them as headrests and hands to get the actors off the floor work as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it chuckles, but past getting splattered with goo at the end during a musical finale, they don’t feel as much in the way as they might.

Whilst the first half is a comedic re-explaining of the original stuck-in-the-barn plot, the second half is a full-blown slapstick comedy, rewinding the tape to imagine what would happen if the group had been lead by the women/one white man/one person had sacrificed themselves for the group to survive, and it loses it’s way a little bit here, when it starts to rely on repeated jokes for the laughs.

Despite that, little touches such as a grey stage and props with the cast being body painted to look like their black and white movie counterparts, and presenting the TV spot as some sort of mad Punch n Judy set-up felt very clever, and enabled you to forgive where you might otherwise have lost a little patience.

Feeling like somewhere between a ninety minute theme park haunted house ride, and a straight up slapstick comedy show, this might not be for the more serious admirers of Romero’s original and important work, but it made me laugh until my face ached a bit, and I think that was what they were going for.  Sophie Francois

Find out more about Night of the Living Dead Live! and order tickets for the show here

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