In 1968, director George A. Romero released a film that would redefine not only the horror genre, but the landscape of film itself. Shot entirely in black and white, and produced by 10 people with a budget of $114,000 by today’s standards, it would eventually go on to gross over $30 million and effectively introduce the zombie sub-genre of horror. That film was Night of the Living Dead.
Now, over 50 years later, Imitating the Dog have undertaken the challenge of recreating the original film on stage. With seven performers, several cameras, and a handful of props, the result is an incredibly successful adaptation that is at once faithful to the source material and a pertinent reminder of its continued relevance in today’s society.
‘Remix’ is the operative term here. While much of what unfolds is a faithful retelling of Night of the Living Dead, Imitating the Dog have included a few additions that help to contextualise the original film. While Romero’s films are known for their social commentary, Night of the Living Dead was initially free from that. However, it is impossible to view either the film or this adaptation without considering the social and historical context; by incorporating these elements, Imitating the Dog help to introduce new audience members to the elements at play.
Before the performance even begins proper, Matt Prendergast takes to the stage recreating Bert Shipp’s famous announcement regarding the assassination of JFK. Archive footage of the Tet Offensive is projected on the backdrop as the cast fight the ‘Ghouls’ and simulate throwing Molotov cocktails at them. Even more successful is the use of Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech during the finale, which remains equally heartbreaking 50 years later – still a tragically strong statement about race relations in the United States.
While the allusions to the social context are impressive, equally so are the means by which the performers recreate the film on stage. Suspended above the stage are two screens. One plays Romero’s original film; the other plays the live feed from the various cameras used by the performers during the production. As the performance unfolds, the performers dart around the stage utilising a variety of tricks and props in order to recreate the film. Toy cars and figurines are used for long shots, pencil sketches of the original set are projected onto the backdrop, and actors stand in for one another to allow for different angles. It’s an ingenious effort that is pulled off, mostly, without a hitch.
There are some moments where cuts and cues do not sync up perfectly; however, this is forgivable as the recording is spliced together from dress rehearsal recordings. If anything, it encourages viewers to witness the full production whenever it is able to continue its tour. Similarly, the news broadcast scenes affect the pacing in the second act greatly, though this is more of a fault of the original film than anything else – seeing how the cast recreates these scenes remains equally impressive.
Indeed, there is so much to praise in this production. The sparsity of the stage is a huge boon and allows for a great deal of versatility in all scenes. The combination of space and mime is very impressive; it adds a certain charm to the proceedings, while also giving a low-budget feel despite the technical prowess on display. The fact that the performers are pulling double-duty – not just in multiple roles, but also as camera operators – only adds to the creativity and resourcefulness on display.
Night of the Living Dead REMIX is a creatively impressive tour-de-force and a fitting tribute to a cult classic. It is a shame that the recording available does not quite do the production justice, however it remains a highly enjoyable show that will fill the void until Imitating the Dog can recommence their tour.
Night of the Living Dead REMIX is available to stream here