Wednesday 17 April 2019

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Back in 1968, George A. Romero released his masterpiece film that became a major influence not only on horror cinema, but the likes of video game series Resident Evil and the comic/TV series The Walking Dead. Now Night Of The Living Dead has made its way to theatres in the only stage adaptation authorised by the Romero estate.

Except here it's not quite how you remember. There's a fine line between horror and comedy - what was once horrifying now seems laughably tame - but in distancing itself from the original film, this production veers so far into the latter as to be unrecognisable.

It's starts off faithfully enough, following the general plot of a group of disparate people holed up in a rickety house as they try to save themselves from the roaming undead. The production design is stunning, with all set, costumes and lighting presented in strict monochrome mimicking the black and white of the film. Jump scares and tension abound as the audience are kept on the edge of their seats.

There's comedy in the over-the-top acting, the exaggerated "yee-haw" accents, the cartoonish physicality. Particularly amusing are Mari McGinlay as the hysterical mouse-like Barbra and Marc Pickering's bumbling coward Harry. An eerie weasel and crunchy sound effects add to the irreverent horror vibe.

Romero's film has since been analysed for its criticism of 1960s America, Cold War politics, racism (the film's lead is a black man who's tragically mistaken for the undead in the final moments), and other tensions of the time.

Here, though, the play's multiple writers and director Benji Sperring nod to that "political bollocks" with the looping structure. It whips through the plot swiftly in its first half, before playing out various "what if?" scenarios. This might toy with a political agenda - sexism, racism and more - but it's only ever played for laughs. Soon the play descends from send up of the film into all-out slapstick farce, full of crass humour and silly antics.

Audience members can pay extra to be on-stage in the "splatter zone", which ends up as a simple marketing ploy - the play's gore is overhyped and these audience members simply prove distracting. Coupled with the amount of merchandise available, it all seems at odds with the consumerism Romero sought to critique.

It makes you wish a little more thought had gone into wrestling with that intriguing grey area between horror and comedy. Night Of The Living Dead Live is a fun night out in itself, but it's far removed from its original source.


Watch: Night Of The Living Dead Live runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 8th June.

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London
Photos: Claire Bilyard