The Night of the Living Dead is often perceived as one of the best horror films in history. It follows the tale of seven strangers trapped in a house in Pennsylvania who must attempt to separate their differences and survive a distressing zombie apocalypse. On Tuesday March 25th I had the opportunity to watch Imitating The Dog’s Night of the Living Dead: Remix (directed by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks) at the Northcott Theatre, and I went into the performance completely blind, having seen no trailers for it.
I was incredibly excited to watch this performance, as I am a huge horror fan, but I did have my concerns. When sat in the audience awaiting its start, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be at a disadvantage for never having seen the original Night of the Living Dead, directed by George A. Romero. Would I understand it in the same way as other audience members? Furthermore, how would it be possible to take a low-budget, 1960s horror film and turn it into a coherent piece of theatre that had the same cult charm the film did?
Fortunately for me, the concerns I had about being unfamiliar with the original film were irrelevant because, in what I can safely say is a first-time experience for myself as a theatregoer, the original film was played on a screen above the stage. Adjacent to it was, to my surprise, another screen, projecting live footage of the actors performing the play onstage. How was this effect achieved, then? Well, beneath the screens on the actual stage were the actors, hurrying around the performance space and seamlessly changing between their given roles and filming the footage that was being projected above them.
This was something fresh and exciting that I, personally, had never seen attempted in a theatre production before. It worked incredibly well in the sense that it disconnected the audience from a world of fiction, instead encouraging them to consider the historical and political contexts that informed the original film (which were, most notably, the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King JR, as well as the racial tensions in the United States), in true Brechtian style. However, despite this, I couldn’t help but find the experience somewhat distracting and difficult to follow. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was supposed to be looking during some scenes and found myself struggling to keep up with the action in places.
Having said that, though, the relative chaos onstage didn’t distract me from Morgan Bailey’s stellar performance as Ben, the tale’s protagonist. He did an excellent job of portraying the predominantly calm, collected and rational protagonist. One of Ben’s most defining features as a character is that, unlike the rest of the cast, he is a black man, and is therefore quite often not listened to due to being perceived as dangerous, despite having some of the only sensible suggestions for surviving the apocalyptic massacre caused by the cannibalistic ‘ghouls’. Bailey captures the essence of this character beautifully: he seamlessly emulates the bravery that Ben shows in the face of imminent danger, the frustration of being ignored due to racial tension, and the underlying terror and uncertainty that comes hand in hand with the danger of the characters’ horrifying situation.
The most poignant scene of Bailey’s, I found, was one in which he, as Ben, portrayed Martin Luther King JR in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. This scene followed Ben locking himself in the cellar upon every other character succumbing to the zombie infection, and the contrast between the hopeful words of King’s speech and the expression of terror still present on Bailey’s face was particularly entrancing. It was an incredibly effective way of encouraging the audience to consider the struggles that people of colour had to (and, quite often, still have to) go through just to be listened to.
All in all, I would say that fans of Brechtian theatre or just horror in general will be incredibly satisfied with this performance. Despite its somewhat chaotic energy, it certainly exceeds the standards of the original film in terms of its quality!
Photo Credits: Ed Waring