Sam, Dominique and Will don’t always get on with each other. It doesn’t help that they’re under a lot of stress due to a zombie-alien invasion, and can’t work out if any other people survive in their town. Dom and Will are brother and sister who don’t have much in common, and Will has no patience with Dom’s bestie Sam, a vegan, weed-smoking student.
Considering all of that, they do quite well for most of Infection, a new play by the Brighton-based Bath Street Productions. With scenes alternating between the past and the present and clear transitions making this is easy to follow, but performances vary according to emotional intensity, and some of the writing is similarly overwrought. There are some witty one-liners and moving moments that, with the absence of the zombie-aliens, prevents Infection from becoming too much like a zombie film, even with strong parallels to Shawn of the Dead.
The script by Faye Woodbridge has a clear dramatic arc and climax, with a format that facilitates suspense by starting in the present, than jumping back to the beginning of the invasion two weeks previously, moving the plot forward by jumping back and forth until we’re back in present. The story itself isn’t particularly inventive, especially as we never properly see the zombie aliens or learn about how the invasion started. Other survivors communicate through graffiti on the supermarket walls, but these are never seen either. Infection is a microcosm but lacks the scope present in zombie films, despite all of the references the characters bandy around. It suits a small-scale theatre space, but doesn’t quite capture the fear of the situation what with exclusively showing such a small group of characters. There’s no sense of scale. There are some minor anomalies – though the attacks are actually seen once, the three keep getting injured without clear explanation. How do zombie aliens sprain the girls’ ankles and dislocate their shoulders? Surely they’d go for something a bit more deadly? Despite the supermarket messages, the characters comment on the town’s emptiness. Despite these issues, it wouldn’t take much development to expand the play and make the invasion’s impact more widely felt, even without adding the invaders.
Writer Woodbridge also plays Dom, giving the most consistent and believable performance from the cast of three. Direction was occasionally obvious through mechanical blocking with no clear purpose; no individual director was credited in the programme, instead directorial credit lies with the production company. A designated outside eye not part of the cast would be able to provide more unity in movement. Martin Wright’s transition sound design is excellent, providing clarity and reinforcing the gravity of their situation.
The most interesting aspect of this script is the gender dynamics that emerge during a time of crisis. Will (Michael Williams) feels obligated to protect his young sister Dom, even though they’ve grown apart as adults and don’t really know each other anymore. He treats Sam (Katie Newman) more like a bloke than he does his sister, despite her diminutive size and more girlish tendencies. Will revels in being the big, strong man even though his foolhardiness and bravado cause further problems, and Dom’s insistence of proving that she can look after herself exacerbates the danger in their situation. The girls’ comic one-liners help draw attention to the ridiculousness of Will’s old-fashioned mindset, as well as add levity to the script.
Though this certainly is not a bad production, but in order to stand out in the zombie field something dramatically different needs to be done. It’s easy to go with a popular formula for success and this is a good representation of it, but not a particularly inventive one.