Night of the Living Dead Live, Pleasance Theatre

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Kill ‘Em All!

The play Night of the Living Dead is not quite like the eponymous B movie cult classic on which it is based. It’s very much a comedy sprinkled with horror and splashes of gore, I love it. It’s a parody of horror movies, but it goes deeper, Night of the Living Dead Live, whilst mocking the horror movie genre is also a social commentary on the sexism, racism and consumerism of 1960s America and in this way reflects the movie and arguably contemporary society. Nevertheless Night of the Living Dead doesn’t take itself too seriously. The cast is wonderfully talented, whose great comic timing is essential for the different forms of comedy on display; verbal, physical, slapstick, farce it’s a whole lot of fun. There is even a brilliant pastiche of musical theatre. My highlights were Ashley Samuels as the do-the-right-thing, Ben, Jennifer Harding as Judy and Helen, but particularly as the hard-bitten Helen who endlessly bickers with the cowardly and overbearing Harry, played with great physicality by Marc Pickering. And the cast all hold their American accents very well.

Ashley-Samuels-Jennifer-Harding-Marc-Pickering-in-Night-of-the-Living-Dead-Live-at-Pleasance-London.-Credit-Claire-Bilyard.
Ashley Samuels, Jennifer Harding and Marc Pickering.  Photo by Clair Bilyar

Night of the Living Dead Live, is a marvellously mischievous adaptation of the movie; using satire and humour it critiques the propaganda of All-American values. It pokes and prods, provoking a lot of laughter, often pulling the rug out from under our feet. We are almost lulled into a false sense of security with the   repetition of different scenarios – the what if the group trapped in the house by the ghouls (as zombies were called) had acted differently they might have survived. Each Ground Hog Day raises questions about how they would act and would they survive, if led by someone with a different perspective.  In various scenarios, with different leaders, the group thrown together in a house and surrounded by the ghouls, split into factions and turn on each other.  Is this a commentary on human nature, that no matter how different the circumstances or perspective, human nature and life are Hobbesian? Although we are not bludgeoned over the head with socio-political messages, Night of the Living Dead Live does seem to suggest that no matter what your background, no one is superior to anyone else. No one escapes…criticism:  the trigger happy police force which shoots firsts then (sometimes)  asks questions later, the take- charge macho man, the suggestion that if women were in charge things would be better, the idea that  we have more that unites us than tears us apart and if we all worked together…

Night of the Living Dead Live is a clever multi- layered play, providing pure entertainment. Its socio-political commentary is fast-paced, sharp and delivered in multiple rib- achingly funny ways by a fantastic cast. The horror and gore is present but not overdone, some may want more, for me it was just right.

All photos by Claire Bilyar.

Night of the Living Dead Live is at the Pleasance Theatre, London from 9 April to 8 June 2019 https://www.pleasance.co.uk

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