Review: Night of the Living Dead - Remix at Liverpool Playhouse ****
Lights, camera, actors….
Imitating the dog applies its trademark multimedia theatrical approach to the zombie apocalypse in what is surely its most ambitious work to date – bringing George Romero’s ground-breaking schlocky horror flick Night of the Living Dead to life on stage.
And whether you’re a fan of the horror genre or not (not), you can’t help but admire the ingenious attention to detail and sheer chutzpah that has gone in to recreating the cult classic frame by frame.
Aptly, the stage presentation is as lo-fi as Romero’s 1968 original; a handful of basic props, one solid staircase, and some less than solid ‘walls’ of vertical fabric blinds on which is beamed pencil-sketch animation and through which the cast melt in and out.
Two screens hang above the stage. One shows Romero’s black-and-white original while the other screens the live action unfolding in real time, along with scenes recreated in – often amusingly rendered – miniature in a series of boxes in the wings.
Performers wield both tripod and hand-held cameras in precision-choreographed scenes as others glide or crawl in and out of shots, or their doubles set up concurrent reverse angles in some sleight of hand storytelling. All very clever.
Night of the Living Dead - Remix. Photos by Ed Waring
The actors on stage don’t just manage to keep pace with the film; on one or two occasions, they even run slightly ahead of it.
Meanwhile their earnestness in recreating not just every angle but also facial expression occasionally leads to some comic over-emoting.
Seven strangers converge on a deserted farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania to escape an army of marauding flesh-eating ghouls. But rather than working together to defeat the undead, selfishness and distrust lead to a less-than-united defence with dire consequences.
Directors Andrew Quick and Peter Brooks see analogies between Romero’s story and both race relations (rare for film at the time, the central role was played by a black actor) and the disintegration of the American Dream.
They underline this with footage from Vietnam (accompanied by a kind of video game music) and original scenes intercut with civil rights speeches from the Kennedys and Martin Luther King – some of which sit more comfortably within the action than others.
Whether you embrace their storytelling vision or are simply happy to sit back and appreciate the sheer artistic endeavour, you certainly won’t see anything else like it on a Liverpool stage this year.