REVIEW: Night Of The Living Dead Live, Pleasance Theatre London ✭✭✭

Mark Ludmon reviews the stage adaptation of George A Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead now playing at the Pleasance Theatre, London.

Night Of The Living Dead Live tickets
Mari McGinlay, Jennifer Harding, Tama Phethean, Marc Pickering in Night Of The Living Dead. Photo: Claire Bilyard

Night of the Living Dead Live!
Pleasance Theatre, London
Three stars
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If only she hadn’t gone down to the cellar… If only he hadn’t opened the door… We often wonder how differently horror films might have turned out if the characters had made different choices. Without wishing to give away too much, this is the clever premise of the new stage version of George A Romero’s classic 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead that inspired today’s obsession with zombies.

There are a few scares and splashes of blood, but Night of the Living Dead Live! is played very much for laughs. We have the familiar ragtag group of characters from the film, trapped inside an old farmhouse trying to fend off an attack by brain-hungry zombies, or “ghouls”, as Romero called them back in 1968. The writing team have retained much of the dialogue, including classic lines to please the fans – so, yes, you’ll find they’re still “coming to get you, Barbra”. Under director Benji Sperring, the energetic six-strong cast embrace every opportunity for humour and kitsch, with plenty of knowing, metatheatrical moments that celebrate the daftness of the story. Making dizzying use of a revolving stage, they then veer off in new directions, exploring alternative, increasingly absurd plots from a 2019 perspective.

Night Of The Living Dead Live Pleasance Theatre
Jennifer Harding, Tama Phethean, Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels in Night Of The Living Dead Live. Photo: Claire Bilyard

It is wonderfully silly, with an engaging ensemble made up of Mike Bodie, Jennifer Harding, Mari McGinlay, Tama Phethean, Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels. Their frenetic energy makes the show a delight but, as it plunges into its second half, it risks outstaying its warm welcome by becoming over-repetitive and self-indulgent. However, there is an infectious joy to the production and, like a well-crafted chaotic panto, it is easy to forgive the occasional joke falling flat.

Night Ofd The Living Dead Live
Mike Bodie and Marc Pickering in Night Of The Living Dead Live. Photo: Claire Bilyard

The highlight of the show is its impressive staging and design. Aiming to recall the aesthetic of the original black-and-white film, designer Diego Pitarch has used a palate of black, white and greys to re-create the Pennsylvanian farmhouse, complemented by Nic Farman’s lighting design. While most of the audience are sat in conventional seating, around 20 people are sat on the revolving stage in the “SplatterZone”. My friends and I were among them, so, zipped up in boiler suits to match the set, we were right in the heart of the flesh-eating, axe-wielding action. We laughed, we jumped, some of us screamed, and we definitely got splattered.

Running to 8 June 2019.

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