Writer: Christopher Bond, Dale Boyer and Trevor Martin
Director: Benji Sperring
Reviewer: Mike WellsThe title alone is enough to excite any horror movie aficionado. The original Night of the Living Dead™vmight be over 60 years old now, but five sequels and two remakes later, it’s legacy as an icon of the genre is as strong as ever. It redefined the term “zombie” and inspired a generation of horror movies which now serve as the benchmark for filmmakers today. So, not much to live up to then…
Night of the Living Dead™ Live!is based on the original movie and is the only live production officially authorised by the Romero estate. The show enjoyed a successful run in North America in 2013, and now it’s gracing the stage in the UK for the first time.
The first thing one notices when the show opens is Diego Pitarch’s design. In a homage to the original, everything is black and white. The texture too is somehow “grainy”. It immediately invokes memories of classic horror films and it’s a really nice touch. Once the show opens, it’s riveting from start to finish. It has a momentum to it that accelerates throughout and ends with a climax so fabulous it would be criminal to spoil the surprise here.
This show is hilarious, and as an ensemble, the cast are excellent – each and every one of them. They demonstrate flawless comic timing throughout and wonderful chemistry. In the role of Ben, Ashley Samuels brings indefatigable energy to the show. In the face of extraordinary and bizarre circumstances, he plays the straight man fantastically well and is a joy to watch. Meanwhile, as Barbara, Mari McGinlay plays the archetypal “terrified 1970‘s horror movie heroine” with great irony and is a constant source of entertainment. Jennifer Harding, Mike Brodie, and Tama Phethean each play a variety of vibrant and exquisitely defined characters between them, ensuring there is never a dull moment. And as Harry, Marc Pickering is sublime as a pot-bellied New Yorker who will do anything for his wife and child as long as it doesn’t involve any bravery on his part.
This show is far more than just a hashed remake of a classic. It is an excellent production in its own right and has embraced the opportunity to take elements of the original movie and reshape them to fit a live audience. There is a fair bit of artistic license used here, but all of it is for the better and it makes for an eminently enjoyable show.
Finally, the key to a good horror movie isn’t always about what one sees, but often about what’s lurking in the shadows, just out of shot. In the years that followed the original film, critics have interpreted the movie as a social commentary of American society in the 1960’s, criticising foreign policy, racial attitudes and ineffective governance. You don’t have to look too hard to see the same threads running through this production, and it makes the show better for it. Many of these messages are as relevant today as they have ever been.
Runs until 8 June 2019. | Image: Claire Bilyard