Tag Archives: Benji Sperring

Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre

Night of the Living Dead Live

Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 16th April 2019



“full of unique and inventive ideas that create an air of originality to the play”


Based on George A. Romero’s classic 1968 movie of the same name, Night of the Living Dead Live! translates the horror story to the stage. This comedic adaptation is stylish and performed brilliantly with some exciting theatrical twists, however it doesn’t quite live up to its horror-comedy expectation.

The show opens with the murder of Ben (Ashley Samuels), who has been hiding in a house from ghouls, which are essentially zombies. Discovered by the Chief (Mike Bodie) and his sidekick Vince (Tama Phethean), the story then rewinds as we watch how the whole thing unfolded. An eclectic mix of characters assemble, including a squabbling couple, a soppy, loved up couple, and the seemingly vacant Barbara (Mari McGinlay). The first act follows the characters bicker and fight in their attempts at survival, and the second act then diverts from the original film narrative in its exploration of alternate endings; what if the leader of the group was a white, all-American man, or what if the leader was a woman? The show plays out every possibility to test which is the best method to survive the night of the living dead.

The production is full of unique and inventive ideas that create an air of originality to the play. Firstly, a section of the audience is seated on stage, dressed in boiler suits and shower caps, literally seated in the middle of the drama. These members of the audience are invisible to the characters on stage, but they are not safe from the blood splatters and violence that plays out before them; the seating area is quite literally called the ‘splatter zone’. To my relief, I wasn’t seated on stage, but I enjoyed watching those who were – their amusement and horror at being covered in blood became a comedic element in itself.

Secondly, the design of the production (Diego Pitarch) was stylish as it attempted to replicate the black and white aesthetic of the movie. The actors were all painted and dressed monochromatically, as was the entire set, and this was really effective in creating the old movie tone that laced the script and performance in general. This tone was heightened in the use of music; tense country music introduced the scenes (soundscape and compositions Samuel West) alongside dramatic, horror movie sounds (sound design James Nicholson and Paul Gavin) that kept all the audience on the edge of their seats – I heard people gasp and felt them jump when these sound effects were played. The production understood the importance of sound in creating tension and exploited it to its full advantage.

Similarly, performances were strong all round, and every actor managed to intentionally embody that awkward style of the stilted, old-Hollywood performers. Jennifer Harding was a real stand-out, playing two very contrasting characters with absolute conviction and perfect comedy- both the characters of Helen and Judy became a joy to watch. Benji Sperring’s direction was neat and flowed nicely, and he certainly lived up to his ambition of wanting to make theatre fun.

That said, there were moments in the drama that lacked significant tension that the design and performances couldn’t disguise. The play started off with a lot of promise but it took too long to progress the narrative. The mix of horror and comedy felt natural to the piece, but the first act slowed in certain places and while the second act redeemed it, picking up the pace, the repetitive structure seemed to stunt its potential rather than push it further. While some jokes sparked, other felt laboured and I felt restless rewatching certain pieces of dialogue over and over. Despite that, the stakes were definitely raised in the second act, and they became higher and higher culminating in a fun and bizarre conclusion that definitely ends the show on the high.

Having not seen the original film, I was worried that some references would go right over my head, and perhaps that’s why I struggled to connect the whole time. I could tell some people responded well to the play and I have no doubt that those on stage had a really fun evening out because it does provide a unique theatrical experience. However, sat in the stalls I sometimes felt like there was a private joke I was missing out on. I’m sure fans of the film will have a great time, but despite its style and energy, I have to admit I was left a little confused and alienated by the whole thing.


Reviewed by Tobias Graham

Photography by Claire Bilyard


Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre until 19th May


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Moonfleece | ★★★ | March 2018
Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy | ★★★★ | April 2018
Dames | ★★★½ | April 2018
Spiked | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Gym Thing | ★★★★ | May 2018
Bingo | ★★★ | June 2018
Aid Memoir | ★★★ | October 2018
One Duck Down | ★★★★★ | October 2018
The Archive of Educated Hearts | ★★★★ | October 2018
Call Me Vicky | ★★★ | February 2019


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Hamilton (Lewis) – 3 Stars


Hamilton (Lewis)

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 6th September 2018


“it is this playful sense of fun, championed undoubtedly by director Benji Sperring, that saves the production from stalling at the starting line”


“We love Hamilton” intone the cast on a bare stage at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, “and we found it hilarious that when Hamilton was first announced, loads of people thought it was a musical about Lewis Hamilton”. I’m not sure if this is really true, and not particularly hilarious, but somehow the misconception hatched the idea: “… wouldn’t it be funny to write a musical about Lewis Hamilton?” the cast then further expound. We are barely sixty seconds into the show and I think I already have the answer to the question.

Lewis Hamilton, arguably the most successful British F1 driver in the history of the sport, is less the subject but more of a vehicle, albeit a high-speed one, for a series of quips and smart references to the modern-day concepts of celebrity, media awareness and corporate sponsorship juxtaposed with and the age old ‘love versus career’ dialogue. If the jokes are occasionally a bit thin, the performances are consistently full bodied, and the four actors do rev up the material with their infectious energy. Although a sporting superstar, Lewis has been frequently described as running low on personality, but Letitia Hector pumps life into the character, fuelled by a sharp sense of irony and fun. Hector depicts Hamilton as a starry-eyed innocent, quickly apprised by the pantomime figure of his team member Fernando Alonso (Louis Mackrodt) and manager Big Ron (Jamie Barwood). “Drive less, smile more” Alonso advises, steering Hamilton headlong into the path of high-profile branding and trophy girlfriends. Cue Nicole Scherzinger; a skilled yet playful performance by Liberty Buckland, who somehow manages to turn caricature into a fully fleshed character.

In fact, it is this playful sense of fun, championed undoubtedly by director Benji Sperring, that saves the production from stalling at the starting line. Fiona English’s book relies on too few gags and David Eaton’s brilliantly scanned lyrics, while well-crafted and witty, are let down by unmemorable music.

There is an overall sense of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ that courses through this show, and maybe it hasn’t travelled well from Edinburgh to London. The haphazard nature, though, does give the show an anarchic edge and it is refreshing to see a company make just as much fun of themselves as the subjects, while riding teasingly close to the wrong side of our libel laws. Yet it also falls victim to these very qualities that do suggest a work in progress; with the chequered flag still a few laps away.

In the prologue, the audience are told that it has taken Lin Manuel Miranda four and a half years to get his hit musical “Hamilton” to where it is. This musical, though, has literally raced to get where it is. And unfortunately, it shows.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard


kings head theatre

Hamilton (Lewis)

King’s Head Theatre until 22nd September



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