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Review: Night of the Living Dead Live – “If George A. Romero made Clue”

l-r) Mari McGinlay, Tama Phethean, Jennifer Harding, Marc Pickering, Mike Bodie, Ashley Samuels. Night of the Living Dead Live. Credit Claire Bilyard.jpg

Based on George A. Romero’s classic 1968 zombie film, Night of the Living Dead Live is playing at the Pleasance Theatre in London from the 9th of April to the 19th of May. Directed by Benji Sperring (The Toxic Avenger: The Musical), the show reanimates the plot of the film live on stage — with added gags — before spinning off into all manner of delightful different directions exploring what could have happened if events happened a little differently.

After Barbara (Mari McGinlay) and her brother are attacked by zombies in a cemetery, she takes refuge in a nearby house with fellow survivor Ben (Ashley Samuels). The pair soon discover that they are not alone. As well as the rallying undead horde outside, there are (mostly) uninfected others already hiding out in the cellar: Harry (Marc Pickering) and Helen Cooper (Jennifer Harding) and their bitten daughter, Karen (a dummy), and Tom (Tama Phethean) and his girlfriend, Judy (Jennifer Harding, again).

The group hunker down, squabble, fight, attempt to escape and don’t make it, before the leader of a zombie-killing posse (Mike Bodie) surmises that if only they had made different choices – maybe they would have made it. From here the show gets special. A wibbly lighting effect and a spin of the stage teleports us back to a key argument that now ends in the survivors making a new decision and the events unfolding completely differently.

This gimmick is Night of the Living Dead Live‘s ace – it sends you into the interval curious and interested and leaves you exiting the theatre absolutely buzzing and delighted. ‘What if?’ after ‘What if? are posited and played out with everything from a change of plan, to a change of leader, to mutual self-sacrifice, to the women taking charge (and the weapons) and kicking undead ass in the most glorious of the scenarios. This entire act pays off so much and so hard.

The cast are all very game and very funny across the board. McGinlay’s shell-shocked Barbara steals every scene she jitters through – even when just sitting wide-eyed hugging an axe, and Samuels’ Ben is an extremely likeable hero whose stand-offs with Pickering’s Harry are wonderfully timed comedic (sometimes tragic) duels. Jennifer Harding deserves special mention for her dual roles as the buttoned-down mom and the squeaky girlfriend that may be opposite ends of the spectrum but are bounced back and forth between with ease and hilarity.

The production itself is in black and white – sets, costume and make-up – and the simple but effective and Swiss Army-utilised stage also features seating for audience members brave enough to risk getting splattered by blood and/or guts during the gory bits. It looked great fun and boiler suits and shower caps were provided to make sure no-ones ‘do got soggy, but sometimes they do obscure on-stage action – particularly anything occurring to the rear right.

Night of the Living Dead Live is like if George A. Romero made Clue: playing out hilarious alternate takes on the original story again and again until the house is brought down and the audience are on their feet. Shoot ’em in the head for a ticket.

Night of the Living Dead Live is on until the 8th June and plays at 7.30pm Tuesday to Saturday, and at 5pm on Sundays, with additional 2.30pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays. Ticket prices start from £15.

The cast of Night of the Living Dead Live at Pleasance, London. Credit Claire Bilyard

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