Pleasance Theatre, London – until 8 June 2019
George A Romero’s 1968 movie Night Of The Living Dead not only unleashed zombies upon an unsuspecting world, but was also one of the first movies to fuse horrific gore with political allegory and just a spattering of satire. The film rapidly garnered cult status and it was a bold move from the five (predominantly Canadian) minds behind the stage show’s inception to translate the picture from stage to screen.
Holed up in a remote farmhouse and surrounded by hordes of the rapacious undead, five survivors seek to avoid the gruesome demise that inevitably awaits them. Aspects of the movie’s plot surface throughout the narrative, and it is a tribute to Diego Pitarch’s outstanding set design and costume theme, that the era and location (including frequent switches between the farmhouse’s ground floor and basement) are delivered so convincingly. Reflecting the original black and white photography of the story, Pitarch deploys an effective monochrome throughout.
But the narrative depends on the people and co-producer Katy Lipson has chosen wisely in engaging Benji Sperring to helm the show. As seen with The Toxic Avenger a couple of years ago at the Southwark Playhouse, Sperring is an accomplished director of comic ghastliness and he has chosen two of his Southwark stalwarts, Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels to drive the evening’s morbid irony. A seminal 60s work, Romero ensured (and the play repeatedly acknowledges) that the issues of the Cold War, civil rights and sexual inequalities that were riving America’s psyche at the time fuelled his satire.
Mari McGinlay plays the eponymous Barbara while Jennifer Harding doubles up for Helen and Judy – with their respective interactions being as deliciously nuanced as a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon. The sound (Samuel West, James Nicholson and Paul Gavin) and lighting (Nic Farman) are top notch too, enhancing the shock comedy horror and providing the perfect complement to Pitarch’s designs.
The tropes and familiar plot lines play out well, though a re-run scene between a cop and his assistant (Mike Bodie and Tama Phethean respectively) proves a little tiresome. Nonetheless a quality and innovative piece of theatre that offers up a neat tribute to Romero’s original.
Runs until 8th JunePhoto credit: Claire Bilyard