As a huge, huge fan of George R Romero’s work and with his sad passing in 2017 (without coming back in the style of his creations, disappointingly), I was excited to see a theatrical adaption of the ground-breaking film Night of the Living Dead advertised at the Pleasance Theatre.
As a fan (huge, huge as described earlier), I wasn’t sure how the film would work on ‘the boards’ and while I could see that as a two-setting piece it would work better than many of Romero’s other works, I was particularly keen to see if it would be played ‘straight’ or given a bit of a twist. Let me assure you that it’s been given more than just a bit of a twist.
The first and most important thing to note is that this production is played for laughs. The film probably did consider itself to be serious ‘back in the day’ but given that it was written in 1968 with 60s production values, it’s forgivable for the funny side being brought to the fore as so many of the things that were so thrilling then don’t quite pack that punch now.
Of course, the first thing you notice is the fact that stylistically this interpretation of Night of the Living Dead is gorgeous. Performed live in black and white it’s a real treat for the eyes and I loved that about it.
The setting too is very well crafted with clever use of lighting to create the separate areas required. In a bit of an odd move, audience members can if they choose to elect to sit on the stage itself in the ‘splatter zone’ – something I didn’t quite understand personally and, to me, it both detracted from the suspension of belief needed to fully buy into the play and felt like the ‘splatter’ was a bit shoehorned in. But it is an unusual experience to have if that’s the sort of thing you look for.
Performance-wise Night of the Living Dead has a cast that clearly takes joy in their work and when the cast is having such a good time, I always find myself enjoying the piece more. It was truly great to see artists loving what they’re doing and it really did enhance the experience for me.
So, here’s the thing. Visuals; strong. Performance; strong. Writing; not so strong. I found myself thinking that a fair few of the comedy elements felt forced and while the premise was sound (exploring alternative actions they could have taken to see if they might have survived in any sequence of events), that too was taken to an extreme level and in a sense detracted from its own effectiveness.
Equally, we probably all know the socio-political background and controversy that surrounded the original but several times in the play overt references to the historical context and time were made that to me came across as more crass than comedic.
In many ways, it’s a shame because with a little restraint, this could have been a really high quality almost family-friendly Evil Dead-esque comedy horror but as it is, while it’s undoubtedly a fun way to spend your evening, I feel it’s just not quite as good as it could be.
Based on the performance and presentation alone, I would recommend Night of the Living Dead Live as a fun night out for fans of light-hearted interesting theatre. Not necessarily something for horror lovers or die-hard Romero fans.
Review by Damien Russell
Based on George A. Romero’s unparalleled 1968 film, one of the most iconic and influential releases of all time, Night of the Living Dead™ Live! comes to London for the first time ever!
A bunch of strangers are holed up in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania.
Hoards of the undead are approaching.
Who will make it out alive?
Night of the Living Dead? Live! skirts the line between the horrific and the hysterical. It’s the only production officially authorised by the Romero estate, paying loving homage to the film and recreating all those iconic scenes, alongside lots of new material for newcomers and hardcore fans alike.
Booking Period: 9 April – 19 May 2019
Running Time: 2 hours including an interval
Age Restrictions: 13+
Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF