Gary Stringer reviews Night Of The Living Dead – Remix now streaming online as the show’s tour was cut short by theatre closures.
Night of the Living Dead – Remix
imitatingthedog.co.uk and previously on tour
Confined inside your home, fearful of a mysterious, insidious killer? Desperate for information of any kind? Suspicious of your companions, their motives and dependability? Unsure of who to trust and what to do for the best? Not today’s news headlines but a love letter to the undisputed classic George A Romero film, Night of the Living Dead. This recreation of the film on stage from Imitating the Dog and Leeds Playhouse, co-directed by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, could not be more topical – available to watch online at imitatingthedog.co.uk from today. As we struggle to understand and adapt to the “new normal” forced upon us by the coronavirus – which cut short the show’s UK tour – this shot-for-shot remake of the politically charged godfather of zombie films is a perfect isolation watch. Although perhaps don’t go so far as boarding up your windows!
In fact, watching this recording – a Frankenstein-type creation stitched together from dress rehearsals at Leeds Playhouse earlier this year – in the comfort of my own home adds another level to an already meta piece, a reverential stage recreation of a modern cinematic classic. Subversive on its original release in 1968, its themes of racism, international politics and the reality of the American dream remain as pertinent today. The slow, steady, seemingly inescapable zombie menace is a metaphor suited to both the turbulent end of the swinging sixties and today’s world of Covid-19 anxiety with its deserted streets, decimated stores and fretful, quarantined populace.
The story is a simple one. A cemetery trip to pay their respects to their dearly departed father turns into a whole new nightmare for siblings Johnny and Barbra when an undead menace strikes. Taking refuge within a nearby farmhouse, Barbra joins a rag-tag team of mismatched survivors, besieged by both the reanimated menace massing and clamouring outside as well as their own paranoia and opposing agendas, turning their uncertain refuge into a powder keg of malcontent.
A cast of seven play all the characters, both alive and undead, armed with cameras and an admirable athleticism as they aim to recreate the film shot by shot. Two screens above the stage showcase this impressive achievement, as the original film is displayed side by side with the action being filmed on stage. Models, props and projections are all used effectively to create maximum tension in this innovative homage.
It is bookended and interspersed by era-defining footage including the assassination of John F Kennedy, the Chicago race riots and, in one perfect background, footage from the Vietnam war over which our protagonists make a break for freedom using Molotov cocktails. Projection and video designer Simon Wainwright and lighting designer Andrew Croft use an impressive array of multimedia to illuminate Laura Hopkins’ stark, mainly monochromatic stage, defined in menacing shades of black and grey until the zombie carnage washes it blood red. Alongside Foley effects by Steve McWade, composer James Hamilton and sound engineer Adam Steed create a suitably ambient soundtrack, adding to what must have made it an immersive experience on stage.
Attempting to create something new while being respectful of such an influential, well-known and well-loved piece of popular culture is no easy task, but by coupling the latest in digital technology with passion and verve, the company have breathed new life into this nihilistic tale, creating something witty, knowing and tensely terrifying and reminding us that the horrors of previous generations are ever ripe to be remixed and revisited.
Night Of The Living Dead Remix is available to watch online for free at imitatingthedog.co.uk/watch-living-dead/. Extra material includes a new video introduction from Russ Streiner and Judith O’Dea, the film’s original Johnny and Barbra.