Night of the Living Dead - Remix

George A Romero and John Russo
imitating the dog and Leeds Playhouse
Exeter Northcott Theatre
to

Imitating the dog’s Night of the Living Dead—Remix is an ambitious and fascinating attempt to recreate George A Romero’s 1968 cult horror classic Night of the Living Dead.

Set in '60s rural Pennsylvania, Romero’s original starts with a couple, Barbara and Johnny, visiting the grave of their father. As they lay their floral tribute, they are attacked by a staggering ‘undead’ man. Johnny is overcome while Barbara eventually finds her way to a locked-up house which is already refuge to six other people, also hiding from the flesh-hungry attackers.

A must for Living Dead and horror movie fanatics, intriguingly the cast of actor-technicians attempt to literally replicate the whole 96-minute movie, shot by shot, by taking every part and acting out each scene exactly as the original. They do this while swapping handheld cameras and projecting the results above the staged action. Simultaneously, the original 1968 movie is also screened adjacent to the live projection.

As the cast move on stage, the filmed version they produce requires split-second choreographed movements which need almost robotic precision to replicate the juxtaposed older version. The results are impressive; it is a staggeringly proficient technical achievement. A must for would-be directors and a fascinating insight for the audience as to the complexity of camera angles directors need to set up and the absurdities of the poses actors need to hold to produce the on-screen results.

The on-stage efforts to produce the filmed results are almost comical at times, which provides some light moments in this otherwise truly horrific classic. But you need to keep up with watching all three actions simultaneously, which often gives you too much to do and is a distracting weakness in this otherwise ambitiously unique production.

Laura Hopkins's set allows for both filmed versions to be projected on adjacent screens. Directly below these, the action takes place on a bare stage with few props surrounded on three sides by a curtain of thinly spliced plastic sheeting. Onto this are projected the backdrops for each scene, but at the same time it cleverly allows characters to appear and reappear almost anywhere on set. Useful with so many role swaps and the undead trying to beat their way into the fortified house.

Part of the shock of the original movie at the time was that the threat came, not from some foreign enemy, but ourselves—albeit a dead version—and one of the most psychologically disturbing aspects was their cannibalistic flesh-eating nature. The threat took place not in some far away country, but right in America’s rural, peaceful heartland. The message that those that threaten us most are people just like ourselves is undeniable.

By topping and tailing, and occasionally interspersing, the production with recorded newsreel from the '60s, directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks have attempted in their Remix version to magnify the civil and political unrest and violence of the era. These are themes that have been attributed to the original and, although writers Romero and Russo deny they were intentional, they acknowledge the unavoidable context of 1960s America. The assassinations of President Kennedy in 1963, Robert Kennedy in 1968, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1964 with the ongoing protests about race inequality, together with the traumas associated with the Vietnam War have often resulted in this era being labelled America’s most shameful decade.

In only deviating from the original in this way, imitating the dog's Quick and Brooks might want to be commenting on today’s inequalities and backdrop of violence. If so, it is a little clumsy and doesn’t fit well with what is otherwise a demonstration of technical and acting precision that brilliantly recreates such a duplicate in real time. At the end of the evening, if you are not a movie fan then you might almost wonder what it was all for. Certainly, a superlative technical achievement, while it is at times distracting it is an academically fascinating production. But if they wanted a commentary on today’s social and political environment, then it loses its power.

Reviewer: Joan Phillips