“Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – this is the mantra writ large on a daily basis. Little did George Romero’s understated B-Movie offering or Animating the Dog’s stage adaptation know that the viral nightmare-ish events that are foretold in their story would have such bearing on our modern existence.
Just over 50 years on, Night of the Living Dead-Remix takes the original story from the 1968 independent horror movie and gives it a refresh. Thankfully, the nucleus of the original is still there. Barbara and Johnny are attacked by a zombie while on their way to paying respects to their departed father. Barbara makes her way to an ‘abandoned’ house where she meets Ben who is also on the run from the zombie attack. Later they discover that the house is not abandoned, and two more families lie hiding in the basement.
The remainder of the plot centres on the tension that is built between the external threat of the undead; and the clash between Ben and the ‘basement’ survivors: do they lock themselves in the basement and wait it out; or remain upstairs, board the windows and doors and maintain visibility of the threat?
Under the stewardship of its co-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks this stage production differs from the film version because the adaptation is played out on stage before us while at the same time – the original film is run on a screen above the actors.
We’re presented with a ‘u’ shaped stage made of white material panels, used by the cast to exit and enter the stage. The panels also act as projection screens where scenes are amplified, and text is projected as the play progresses. Above the set are two large screens: on the left the original film runs and on the right a live recording play-back of the stage performance. I suspect that this approach would’ve been more impactful had I been part of a live audience at Leed’s Playhouse. The sensation of watching from home took a while to get used to as it wasn’t clear where my eyes should focus at any given time: screen 1, screen 2 or at the stage.
Being made aware of the actor/camera crew permanently on stage caused added confusion. However, after about 45 minutes I grew used to the set-up, focusing on either screen or the stage and only occasionally flitting my eyes elsewhere. And the strong story draws us in and keeps our attention.
Told in real-time without flash backs, the tension builds and alliances switch. The actors deliver stellar performances notwithstanding the warning on the website’s intro notes, that this showing is a compilation of multiple dress rehearsals and therefore sound and continuity issues may be experienced.
Why was this version was called ‘Remixed’, I wondered? In Imitating the Dog’s production Simon Wainwright’s Projection and Video Design provides the answer. He’s cleverly taken Romero’s original and spliced it with the political overtones that were previously only alluded to. Released in 1968 on a shoestring budget and having a black lead protagonist was a ground-breaking step; especially, as America was undergoing a decade of palpable civil unrest (in relation to race, gender and class politics).
Ben’s character is again cast as an intelligent, competent, black male hell bent on survival. However, his existence is given more poignancy when references to key political events in the USA are projected on to the set. These include the assassination of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Also, thrown into the mix is the Vietnam war another key touch point during this period that divided America. As each scene is relayed the score (Composed by James Hamilton) adds currency to the performance.
Throughout this performance the piece’s message of division, separation and isolation are highlighted. Then to counter this the positive speeches of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are digitally portrayed as our actors fight for survival. These provide a space for peace, tolerance and understanding.
This performance of Night of the Living Dead – Remixed is both an unapologetic and ambitious retelling of a cult classic. I recommend it and any criticisms I may have raised are the result of my watching a dress rehearsal on-line and are not a critique of the quality of the overall piece. I can’t wait to see this live once we’ve all finished Staying at Home Saving the NHS and Saving Lives.★ ★ ★
Imitating the dog and Leeds Playhouse’s online premiere of their shot-for-shot stage recreation of the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead is available for three months from 17 April 2020. Visit www.imitatingthedog.co.uk to view online.