Savvy slapstick meets titillating thrills and gleeful gore in this comedic adaptation of George A. Romero’s indie cult classic Night of the Living Dead.
Much like the film, this performance directed by Benji Sperring at the cosy Pleasance Theatre reeks of raw humanity and parading social commentary – and it’s pretty bloody entertaining, but also it’s just plain bloody.
A loud screeching sound transports us right back to 1968, where we’re barricaded in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse with an army of undead ghouls amassing outside, clearly dying to get to the strange group of not-yet-undead strangers stuck inside the house.
The play starts by following the film’s now infamous narrative, we’re faced with the pretty basic horrors of a zombie apocalypse and the horrid microcosm of American society fighting to survive it. The cast are all equally talented, the stage choreography is well-executed, the lighting is so right, the Tim Burtonesque set design is clever and allows the audience to see the action unfolding outside, but as the first act draws to a close, we’re left feeling bored and not really gagging for more.
Which is just as well, as it only serves to highlight the stark contrast with the second half’s sudden pace shift and comedic plot twist. The play very swiftly turns into a playful meta-critique of the film, and by extension the first half of the play, which is itself a social critique of the endemic inequalities of 1960s America. Inevitably, we start to get the creeping sensation that American society really hasn’t changed one bit.
Tragic, but also pretty funny. While the audience isn’t exactly roaring with laughter, and certainly not letting out “a little wee” as promised in the program, it’s definitely chuckling loudly as the play continues to poke fun at itself in increasingly ridiculous ways. The actors really start to shine in their capacity to switch personas while remaining in character – though why part of the audience is sat on stage with them is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they’re there to highlight the splattering bloodiness of it all à la retro-Tarantino, but really they’re just seriously getting in the way of the action.
They don’t, however, get in the way of the fact that this is fun play with an intelligent script, inviting us to bask in that cultish absurdist-noir vibe that’s perfect for some light self-reflection, light-hearted fun and debating the impending apocalypse with friends in the pub.
Night of the Living Dead runs at the Pleasance Theatre until June 8.
Words by Jessica Erb. Images by Claire Bilyard.
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Also published on Medium.