I started yesterday’s review of Lights Over Tesco Car Park by saying it was the oddest thing I’d seen since taking on this #30plays30days project; well Night Of The Living Dead – Remix by Imitating The Dog runs it very close. In fact, let’s call it a dead heat (sorry about the pun but it seems a shame to waste the opportunity). This production too was like nothing I’d ever seen before – except that it was like something I’d seen before, in fact exactly like. For this stage piece – I hesitate to call it a play – was a mind mangling attempt to reconstruct live and shot for shot the George Romero cult classic film of the late 1960s. Not so much a remix then as a recreation.
The original ghoul/zombie movie was made on a shoestring budget which means that its lo fi horror is ripe for reproduction. How this is done with just a handful of performers is a tremendous exercise in timing, commitment and, as the directors admit, sheer folly. I have just tried three different versions of writing down the way everything melds together but have given up as it’s almost impossible to describe this piece. Better, I feel, to let Imitating The Dog explain it themselves.
And if that doesn’t boggle the mind, then you must simply be unboggalable!
Sometimes the cast are acting out the same scene on different points on the stage allowing for both camera feeds to be cross cut to replicate the style of the original with its oddly framed angles. Extensive and resonant use of video projection is employed. Film of crude models is used to represent events outdoors and there is extensive use of foley effects to enhance the soundtrack – as would happen in film. The live actors sometimes speak the dialogue and sometime lip synch; they literally step through the walls of the film set. The lead female role of Barbara is played by two actors, often simultaneously, or three if you count the one in the original film. Mind mangling? You bet!
To add a significant layer of commentary, there are moments when the production steps outside of itself to set the film in its original historic context. i.e. America in the 1960s. The assassination of both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King are heavily referenced and the latter’s “I Have A Dream” speech is played out ironically moments before a central black character meets his end. The film has always been seen as a commentary on racism. And in one particularly clever sequence the zombie attack/counter attack is played out alongside scenes of cruelty and devastation from the Vietnam War – this is real horror played out against fictional horror.
The burning question is, does it all work? As a stage recreation of a film (and we’ve had far too many examples of that in recent years at the expense of original work) it sits well outside the norm and retains a level of interest for its chutzpah if nothing else. However, it does have its faults and the main problem, I think, is one of levels. In the staged version you are watching a performance team recreate a film. In this streamed version you are, of course, watching a filmed version of a stage performance team recreating a film. And this extra level is probably one too many. I all but stopped trying to follow the original storyline while marvelling at the sheer bravado of the enterprise especially when at times there is simply too much to take in. Your eyes flit from the performers, to what the camera operators are doing, to the visible technical team, to the screen where the film is being reproduced, to the screen where the original film is being shown. Sensory overload starts to set in and the whole piece becomes exhausting. While this may well be the intention I can’t help thinking it would be so much more impressive live in a theatre and create a real sense of an event. However, as that is impossible at the moment, on balance I would say it is well worth investing your time – particularly if you have an interest in the cinema as well as the stage.
One more aspect resonated. Here is a film/play/film that deals with an (at first) unseen and incomprehensible plague sweeping the country. The main characters choose to barricade themselves inside and receive reports of the outside world through the drip feed of mass media. A sense of hysteria prevails; the phrase “They’re coming to get you” echoes in your fevered brain. Now where have I….? Oh!
Production photos by Edward Waring
Night Of The Living Dead – Remix is available on Imitating The Dog’s website. Click here
As a curtain raiser I also watched the company’s short film of Oh The Night! This was a delightful modern fable using projection, lights and a live choir and couldn’t have been more different in tone if it tried; one for the family
To keep up with the blog and get all the latest updates on #30plays30days please click here and choose a follow option
For further online theatre suggestions and news of newly released productions please click here