Night of the Living Dead Live - The Company - Review by Becky Cleary
The latest production from The Company took place at The Drama Studio and is the first production from this group that I have seen, as first impressions go, I was not disappointed! As a big horror fan and a lover of comedy, this was the perfect coupling for a Saturday night out at the theatre.
Having never watched the original Night of the Living Dead film and only reading the promo for this show I was going in blind. However, I did decide to watch the original film after I saw the show and before writing this review so I had a little more context.
Based on the original horror film written by George A Romero, Night of the Living Dead Live was written by Christopher Bond, Dale Boyer and Trevor Martin and created by Christopher Harrison and Phil Pattinson.
In this comedy re-imaging of the original film the show starts with the final scene and the whole film is covered in the first half. A series of multiple endings were displayed, showcasing the contrasting personalities of strangers who have just met and how they struggle to work together to fight off the zombies outside. No matter what they continue to fail to come together to survive.
Mark Kenny plays the pragmatic Chief McClelland who seems to have a lot of knowledge about how to kill a zombie. To find out that this was his first attempt at an accent on stage was surprising because Kenny sounded like he was straight out of Pennsylvania. Kenny has brilliant stage presence and I was hanging onto his every word.
Kate Spivey’s performance of Barbra was not only the most similar to that of the original film version but she completely looked the part as well. With great comedic timing, Spivey plays hysterical and catatonic well. I think I will have the high pitched ‘Joanie’ that was repeated throughout in my head for a while!
I must also give a special mention to Charlie Lloyd who plays Harry the weaselly and antagonistic husband of Helen and father of Karen. Lloyd showcased a range of emotions throughout. From being angry, a coward and fake crying to being a zombie, Lloyd displayed a masterclass of what an actor with range is.
However, the stand out performance of the night came from Fadumo Hassan who plays Ben. I love seeing theatre companies who open casting to all genders, it gives a fresh new perspective on how you originally see the characters played and also gives actors the opportunity to play parts they never thought they would have the chance to. Hassan commanded the stage perfectly, from the way she delivered lines to her physical acting she was a joy to watch and would not be out of place on a west end stage. I would love to see her in other shows!
The rest of the cast displayed brilliant chemistry with each other and when they were not necessarily in the spotlight they all knew what their characters would be doing in that moment.
Praise must go to the production and backstage team the sound, lighting and set design is some of the best that I have seen from an amateur dramatics company. A lot of the comedy came from the sound effects but also helped us to visualise things happening that were not shown on stage such as a fire and car crash thanks to sound design by Ben Bater. In the second half we also saw some shadow work cleverly directed by Monica Gall and Mark Todd that was taking place behind a simple white cloth screen that added to the visuals.
All costumes and set were in black and white which helped take the audience back into the 1960’s original film. The majority of the cast also had their faces painted white to display this as well. It felt as though the film had been bought to life and put onto stage and although there was a simple set it was very effective with the inside of the farm house on the raised stage and the outside on the floor.
One of my favourite moments of the show was when the whole cast burst out into song at the end with ‘Work Together’ with Judy played by Lizzie Davis giving a dramatic performance in the background who is half on and off stage to show that she is playing the piano even though the instrument cannot be seen. It also displayed that not only can Lloyd act but he has some amazing singing pipes on him as well! It was a completely unexpected part of the show but I was smiling away throughout.
This was the final show of their run and several people in the audience gave a standing ovation and threw flowers onto the stage during the applause which was a lovely touch. Seeing the hard work and creativity from The Company makes me want to join them for their next show! A perfect way to get ready for Halloween at the end of this month.
by Becky Cleary
Butter Side Up Theatre Company