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Review: Night of the Living Dead Live!, at Pleasance Theatre

18 April, 2019 — By Jack Courtney O’Connor

Ashley Samuels in Night of the Living Dead Live! Photo: Claire Bilyard

THE controversial playwright Howard Barker has accused the audience of being the enemy.

George A Romero, writer/director of the classic 60s horror movie, I am sure would agree… especially seeing the first-night audience of the theatrical makeover of his pulp classic.

A monochrome set with 20-odd punters in grey overalls for no apparent reason can be seen sitting on stage – perhaps some are family friends of the actors or patrons of the theatre or even strangers from south London – taking selfies in costume and asking members of the audience to take snaps of them.

The scene is set for a farcical production of Romero’s movie. It was made at a time (1968) of Cold War angst and more than a bit of paranoia about. But instead of “reds under the beds” we had zombies.

The play opens with an Orson Welles-type voiceover reminiscent of his War of the Worlds broadcast warning us that the Martians are coming – only this time it’s ghouls!

Act one is almost a recreation of Romero’s picture – set in a house in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by zombies, but the term was not used in the movie. The second act offers a series of “what if?” formats with different scenarios heading towards an up-lifting musical finale.

The director, Benji Sperring, has commented that the Romero movie can be seen as a metaphor for anti-consumerism.

Other critics have said it was a warning against galloping capitalism.

To quote the director: “Political bollocks aside, Night of the Living Dead occupies a position which few other stage pieces do: comedy horror! The result is a combination of Shaun of the Dead and Carry on Zombie.”

This is a fine production with super special effects and the stage management production team have to be congratulated, as well as the walk-on ghouls.

There are many strong performances with Ashley Samuels as the lead Ben playing it straight for more effect.

If ghouls (zombies) are your bag, then this is for you.

Until June 8
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