Night of the Living Dead Live

Mari-McGinlay-Jennifer-Harding-Tama-Phethean-Marc-Pickering-in-Night-of-the-Living-Dead-Live-at-Pleasance-London.-Credit-Claire-Bilyard.
Night of the Living Dead
Photo credit: Claire Bilyard

Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey

Night of the Living Dead is an instantly recognisable title; George Romero basically kick-started the zombie genre in his 1968 flick, though they were just ‘ghouls’ then, a moniker adhered to in this: Night of the Living Dead Live.

Not much else is taken on board though; the location, the basic premise, yes, but not the tone. This is horror-comedy, not straight horror. Maybe there’s an argument here that it in some way disrespects the original intent of the movie – but honestly, it’s hilarious, so who cares? Seven strangers are still holed up in an abandoned house; they’re still being attacked by ravenous, contagious murderers, and they still can’t work together to (literally) save their lives. In the live version however, the absolute silliness of the concept is embraced, mined, winked at – at one point a seemingly omniscient radio narrates the preferred weapons (bludgeoning, edged, and of course good old-fashioned American firepower) as they ping out of a cupboard and display themselves to the character. It’s a curated childishness that at its best – a kind of Punch-and-Judy sketch on a giant TV springs to mind – echoes Monty Python.

The cast are great all round, and crucially for this kind of production (and genre), seem to be massively enjoying themselves. Marc Pickering, in particular, is a masterclass in physical comedy, striding his belly up and down the stage – to the point that at one point he said something as innocuous as “gotta get a glass of water” and someone on my row repeated it, giggly. Jennifer Harding is another standout amongst standouts, playing two incredibly disparate characters – one silly, one sensible – with absolute conviction.

Stagecraft truly lives up to its name here – the set is monochrome (as are the actors, daubed in shades of grey), living up to George Romero’s original black-and-white film; the moments seeing the audience on stage’s tiny pink faces are a shock once your eyes have adjusted. It’s a deft, innovative touch, and not the only one; a see through panel in the back of the set delineates inside and outside, and characters are constantly popping out of doors only to reappear somewhere else. This is particularly effective when Helen/Judy have to switch shifts, to the point that it sometimes feels like they must have been on stage together.

Yes it’s ridiculous and silly, but it’s also unique – and, at certain points, even joyful.

Jennifer-Harding-Tama-Phethean-in-Night-of-the-Living-Dead-Live-at-Pleasance-London.-Credit-Claire-Bilyard.
Night of the Living Dead
Photo credit: Claire Bilyard

My verdict? One of my favourite shows this year so far: a genuine riot.

Rating: 4*


Night of the Living Dead runs at the Pleasance until 8 June 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.

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