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This extraordinary shot-by-shot remake of George Romero’s 1968 cult horror film is obsessively detailed, carefully playful and impeccably timed. With intense precision, the Leeds-based company Imitating the Dog recreate every sharp, shadowy angle of the original flesh-eating story in this Wooster Group-inspired valentine to the game-changing horror flick. Directed by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, the production is trippily addictive; you don’t want to look away for a second.
There are two screens above the stage, side by side. On the first is Romero’s film, in which a group of strangers hide from zombies – or “ghouls”, as Romero called them – in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania. The second screen shows Imitating the Dog’s version, filmed live using three cameras – two handheld, one standing – right in front of the audience. The stage becomes an active film set. Laura Hopkins’ minimalist white set serves as the perfect backdrop for Simon Wainwright’s depth-expanding hand-drawn projections, and sliced plastic curtains around the stage let the cast come on and off at any point.
The crew’s dedication to the re-creation cannot be overstated; the exactitude of certain scenes is jaw-dropping. There is a delicious sense of scrappiness on stage to achieve this precision, which prevents the show from becoming stale to watch. The cast frantically duck, spin, double and sometimes use dolls to get their film to near-perfection, mirroring the original on the parallel screen. They never make it look too easy, and there’s more than a little thrill in the knowledge that it could so easily go badly wrong. But no fear – the cast excel as actor-technicians. When the characters are watching a TV report about the spread of the attack, Luke Bigg rotates two handheld cameras while the cast leap around him for a rapid succession of alternating angles; despite it seeming like a moment of chaos on stage, the shots are flawless on screen. I dread to think what the prompt book looks like.
Romero unwittingly helps the theatre-makers out. He made the film on a minuscule budget and had to make artistic decisions within his means. To make his “ghouls” freshly dead was cheaper than making them look as if they had been in the ground for years, and shadows hide a multitude of sins. Similarly in the scenes of violence, many of the bits that would be tricky to film are out of shot; the Remix team are able to recreate a scene using a corpse and a weapon on opposite sides of the stage, with the shots woven together on screen. The company draws out the comedy in these moments of stagecraft, just as aware of how their performance looks on stage as on screen.
The production is not so much a remix as a fanatic replica, with a few on-the-nose extras. Clips of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the Vietnam war overlay radio and TV broadcasts. It pushes the contemporary racial and political injustices to the fore, but simultaneously distrusts the film, sucking the air from its subtext. Romero’s film was a landmark for overturning conventions and using contemporary strife as the backdrop for horror fiction, and part of me wants the stage show to break out of his shadow and be brought up to date.
Nevertheless, Night of the Living Dead – Remix is a remarkable experiment and a worthy ode to Romero’s film. It’s hard to imagine another company doing the same job better, though it’s another question altogether whether anyone else will have the patience to try.
Source: The Guardian
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