Trapped in a quarantined facility, you scuttle quickly and quietly through deserted corridors led by armed forces. Blood and brain juice drips down walls, ramshackle barricades block your path, and the screeches and moans of deadly zombies form a perpetual soundtrack. Narrowly escaping the clutches of the walking dead, you’re ushered into a small room to discover a prisoner who holds information that undermines your whole operation and throws your escape into disarray. Should you let him survive? The facility self-destruct sirens whir, sweat trickles down your back, and zombies are threatening to break down the doorway that serves as flimsy protection. There’s no time to lose.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the plot of a video game. But this is The Generation of Z, a theatrical promenade performance in an abandoned warehouse in East London. You’re thrown into the midst of a zombie apocalypse and, guided by a group of soldiers, must escape. You might head to the medical bay to help treat a wounded soldier, assist a young man desperately searching for his sister, or stumble across a cure for the outbreak. No matter what, you will get blood on you.
There’s no denying that immersive theatre is currently in vogue, but a distinction needs to be made between immersive and interactive theatre. The Generation of Z does an incredible job of creating a believable world, inspired by countless horror games and films. The set design of each area is intricately detailed – the initial holding area alone is filled with missing persons posters, detritus left behind in a hurry, and blood splatters from past battles. There’s a genuine sense of history and tension that’s only heightened by the excellent cast. Clever sods will spot the odd person planted in the audience, but the lead soldiers do a great job of barking orders, relaying the story and (of course) ensuring our safety. Lose the cynical hat and it’s easy to lose yourself in this world, creeping silently and strafing around corners.
This isn’t, however, a particularly interactive show. There are the odd moments where the audience are called upon to participate, but for the most part you’re ushered through the scenario like a theme park ride. Occasionally there are choices to be made – you’ll want to go more than once to see the effects of your decisions – but the overall narrative arc and outcome are fixed. And there are always difficulties with this form of storytelling: it creates an atmosphere like no other, but the story is told through small snippets of information that are easily lost in the crackle of walkie-talkies and zombie wails. Plot points are quickly forgotten and the ending, too, comes all too suddenly with little explanation, as if the writers struggled to find a conclusion.
Then again, it’s the thrill of the action that you’ll be interested in and, by the very nature of the dangerous scenario, it’s understandable that the audience are side-lined. If you want to solve puzzles and headshot zombies then pick up a PlayStation controller. But if you’re looking for an adrenaline-fuelled ride that no standard theatre can replicate, then The Generation of Z is a must-see. Better yet, if you’re looking to truly participate, you can even sign up to be a zombie yourself.
Watch: The Generation of Z runs at Dept W until 5th July.