Having interviewed the co-directors and attended a rehearsal, Robyn Wilson was there on opening night: ‘Twas the Night of the Living Dead….. it was hypnotic!’
My excitement for the show was real. I was actually on time for once in my life, whereas I’m used to shamefully being directed to my seat by a torchlight of humiliation.
With almost a full house, the audience was entertained from the very beginning. I finally realised those barbies and small dolls had some use. They really had recreated the film shot by shot on stage. Two screens were positioned side by side showing the original Night of the Living Dead film and next to that the live footage from the stage was being played, with cast members doing the filming, capturing every action; every image.
The opening scene of the film was recreated by filming a small set of ‘roads’. As soon as the ‘God hands’ started moving a teenie toy car up the road at the side of the real film scene playing, it had the whole room belly laughing.
As a filmmaker myself, I understand the rules of cinematography and filmmaking. Live theatre and stage rules are another world. The sophistication of choreography and directing all of this blew my mind. The actors not only had the pressure of acting as different characters throughout the show, but they also simultaneously filmed the whole film shot by shot on stage. The rhythm of both actions being played out in front of us all was mesmerizing.
Andrew Quick (Co-Director) told me last week when I was watching the rehearsals that ‘’The sound production re-recorded the film’s Foley so it would sound bigger and brighter on stage’’. Tiny microphones sat in each actor’s ear, playing out the original dialogue and soundtrack, which helped them follow it in real time. Nobody messed up on their lines, or if they did, I didn’t notice.
Black and white storyboard sketches made up the set walls. The use of technology on stage was stunning and clever throughout. On the backdrop of the set, they projected news scenes from the Vietnam war, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations over certain scenes in the film. This really worked at making sense of the chronology and timing and gave greater understanding to the film’s meaning.
The horror of the original movie wasn’t so strong as they might have intended and this added to the humour in trying to recreate the film on stage in this century. Some of the scenes had actors hitting thin air, against the magic of the real film scene playing out above the actors, showing up the art of filmmaking and showing it up as what it really is, which is complete manipulation. The real horror was created by showing flashes of what us humans were doing to each other at the time. Flashes of the KKK haunted the set as the character Ben acted the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King. The room stopped laughing, creating a still chilling atmosphere. An exact moment of realisation at the real monsters in this story. Even more devastating, we were all relating it to the world we live in today. Filmmaking has come a long way, but humans haven’t?
The characters of Ben (Morgan Bailey) and Barbara (Laura Atherton) acted out the punching scene I worried about in the film. Luckily, the fake punch and Barbara’s dramatic flopping body had the room in hysterics. The horrendous representation of women in the film only brought more comedy to the show. The ridiculous lines for the female characters showed them as pretty good for nothing, empty headed bimbos. The actor playing Judy stares and smiles at her boyfriend, the film Tom, moments before they are possibly eaten by flesh eating ghouls. Will Holstead, playing Tom, hugged her and said ‘’ Boy, you sure are no use at all are ya’’, which probably measured the biggest laugh of the show.
I was exhausted at the end. Sometimes I was finding myself just watching the screens and not the real life action in front of me. Was that the film geek in me or was that the screen watching the zombie generation we are today? I have never experienced watching anything like Night of the Living Dead RMX . It was frantic and distracting for me, yes, but one of the best works of art I’ve witnessed; a stage of beautiful chaos. I now find myself respecting the film so much more. Thank you to imitating the dog and all the cast and crew.
Night of The Living Dead continues at Leeds Playhouse until 15 February. It is an extraordinary experience.
All photographs by Ed Waring, provided by Duncan Clarke PR.