George A. Romero’s iconic horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968) has to this day had an enormous influence on cinema and it defined the modern zombie film. Its influence, however, goes wider than just cinema – now fifty-one years after the release of the original film, for the first time ever, it has been turned into a stage show. Night of the Living Dead LIVE! is an immersive tribute to the classic film and its director, and fans can check out this stage production (officially authorised by the Romero estate) in London right now.
From the stage of Pleasance Theatre in North London, Night of the Living Dead LIVE! transports us to Pennsylvania in the late 60s. The stage and the cast faithfully imitate Romero’s black and white landmark in striking monochrome. Everything on stage from the props, set and costumes to make-up appears in various shades of black, white and grey. It’s a small but effective production. The farmhouse, where the characters soon will be hiding from ghoulish hordes, has barred windows, locked doors, and an old wireless radio. There are hidden doors and corridors alike, and no one knows who or what can suddenly crawl out of there.
The performance tickets are available in different zones from Supposedly Safe to Probably Safe. Gore enthusiasts can choose Splatter Zone One, meaning they will end up wearing dark boiler suits and sitting in the middle of the stage throughout whatever gory happenings. Before the show begins, those brave spectators are sat in the centre and await the said splatter which is the immersive element of Night of the Living Dead LIVE!
The audience sit in the darkness when they hear a loud bang. There’s a twisted, dead body lying on the stairs as atmospheric music cues in. The performance evokes the well-loved eerie feeling of the film as siblings Barbra and Johnny arrive at the cemetery to visit their family graves and pay their respects. She has blonde hair and is wearing a white coat. Johnny adjusts his glasses while moaning about a 6-hour drive and the high cost of the flowers they’re only going to dump on the grave and leave. He teases his sister: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” and the iconic line makes the audience gasp.
The couple is then, of course, attacked by zombies who capture Johnny. Struck by panic, Barbra escapes and hides in the farmhouse. A man, Ben, comes in, kills the ghoul and the blood splatters on the viewers in Splatter Zone One. The audience is ecstatic. There’s a lot of smoke and brain-hungry creatures come out of nowhere; the lights, sounds and music add up to the tension. It nearly feels like watching Romero’s film as the play turns into a tribute of its silver screen inspiration.
The actors do a great job of mirroring the film’s characters. Barbra (amazing Mari McGinlay) is freaked out, neurotic, and soon wielding an axe; Ben (brilliant Ashley Samuels) is a seemingly sensible man, trying to remain level-headed. Soon others appear from below the stairs: arguments ensue, weapons are brandished and panic takes over. The radio informs us all: “The killers are eating the flesh!”
If Act 1 is a horrific tribute to the film, Act 2 unexpectedly loses its spirit. It has several ‘funny’ moments that feel they are there just for the sake of laughs and don’t have much to do with the story. There are twists and turns but for some time the story stagnates and repeats itself without achieving anything, as if trying to fill up a 2-hour slot. As funny twists may not appeal to everyone, blood and body parts fly around the stage and it does end on a high note. There’s even a surprising musical element to it which suddenly turns the play into something more like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s extra splatter for those sitting nearby.
As a big fan of Night of the Living Dead, and I believe I’m not alone in saying this, I was interested to see how such an iconic film could be translated into a play. With its ups and downs, laughs and scares, it does nod to and respect the late George A. Romero’s masterpiece. And it’s fascinating to see how the 1968 film continues to inspire to this day.
Night of the Living Dead LIVE! runs until June 8, 2019. More information and tickets can be found here https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/night-living-dead-live.