Tag Archives: Claire Bilyard

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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The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good, The Bad and the Fifty
★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Good The Bad and The Fifty

The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 15th February 2019

★★★★

 

“The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time”

 

Improvised comedy can be nerve-shredding. For casts, certainly, but for audiences too. Jokes teeter on the brink of finding their target or falling flat. Repartee must hustle along at a relentless pace. Everything is but seconds away from an awkward pause or a fluffed line. Thank God, then, that the stellar cast of the London Improvathon keep it all on the hilarious side of panic.

The theme for this year is all things Wild West, and the series of character introductions demonstrates immediately what territory we’re in (literally). You’ve got your classic hellfire-preaching pastor and chaste daughter, your gunslinging sheriff, your out-of-towner and your town drunk (the likeable character of Dirk Gundersson, with some laugh-out-loud delivery). On the subject of those character introductions, this cast is so huge that running through each character in this way actually risks an early slackening of pace – and hey, isn’t it cheating to use your improv time for beefy prepared intros?

No matter. Once we’re into the meat of the show, the true improvisation, the fun really begins. The model is slick; an excellent compère/director works alongside a remarkably adaptable pair of musicians and a lighting crew to set up each scene, at which point selected actors are bundled in and, without so much as a ‘howdy pard’ner’, the freestyling begins. Naturally some scenes are stronger than others, and, at least in the first of the 25 two-hour chapters, a sense of a meaningful through narrative is hard to find. But the need for one slips away as we’re lured into the peculiar world of ‘Wilton’s Creek’ one vignette at a time. The cast is strong, verbally agile and crucially – so, so crucially for a show like this – seem to be having a good time.

As is perhaps so often the way with improv, standout moments come when things start to get away from our players. It’s quickly clear that we’re in capable hands, with some actors always displaying a clear mastery over their craft (the character of Colonel Sanders, for example, is uniformly a joy to watch). Feeling secure, the audience enjoy the occasional verbal cul-de-sac confident that it will be turned to humour. The Colonel’s spelling out of ‘perspicacity’, visibly instantly regretted, is a great example of this, as is Pastor John breaking character to address an audience member and warn that God will text him their name.

The night isn’t perfect. It’s rotten luck for the less confident cast members to sit among such an accomplished ensemble, as less than whip-smart performances become all the more obvious. And it was notable to me that, at least in the chapter I saw, this cast of approaching twenty people were all white.

This is a blissfully adroit cast though (one might say perspicacious), and it’s hard to begrudge a moment of the very apparent fun being had on stage. And yee ha! It’s delicious silliness for audiences too.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Claire Bilyard

 


The Good The Bad and the Fifty

Wilton’s Music Hall

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019

 

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