We Londoners do like our undead taking over our green and pleasant land, whether they are on the big screen (Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later) small screen (Dead Set, I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse) – or even in Whitechapel. This Easter, a former Wickhams department store on Mile End Road will soon be overrun with the living dead, in live immersion experience The Generation of Z: Apocalypse.
But with all the Walking Dead shows, haven’t Londoners had their fill of shambling ghouls? Well, apparently not, according to the London event’s co-producer Charlie McDermott. Until July, zombie fans will get the chance to put themselves into the middle of a 75 minute event, which carries a warning that their evening’s entertainment features realistic depictions of gore and violence. Every choice the audience makes will involve “life or death and survival is in your hands.”
McDermott adds his aim let the audience “take a chainsaw to the fourth wall” and feel part of the undead experience in a labyrinthine, run down setting. The audience will be split into groups and have to negotiate a basement holding 40 zombies every night, played by drama students, and created by professional makeup artists. Here the survivors take part in a story line which could end in 16 different ways.
So where did McDermott get the idea? As a longterm Romero fan, the Deadfather was an inspiration: as a teenager, McDermott and friends would head to the local video store to rent “all the VHS horrors known to man” including the original Dawn of the Dead. Combined with a theatrical background, this horror-watching made McDermott want to create an “interactive zombie play” and put the people inside a movie rather than just passively sit watching it. Other inspirations involved wanting to scare the audience as much as possible by pitchforking them into a London suffering the “dark heart of a zombie massacre”.
He cites the huge global interest in the zombie genre, estimating the industry is worth $US6 billion in the States alone, as a sign that fans are keen to see more of their reanimated anti-heroes, just closer up. He also notes the popularity of other immersive theatre/film hybrid experiences such as Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema. McDermott describes himself and fellow producers Beth Allen and William Burdett-Coutts, as being like “kids in a candy store” in creating this new world.
The production, originally from New Zealand and transferred first to the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, will be located in an area made notorious by Jack the Ripper and the Kray Twins. He says the show’s appeal is getting people to experience the thrill of survival on the chaos-stricken streets of their capital. The evening explores “humankind’s never-ending fear of death” and pioneers a new form of entertainment where the audience’s moral decisions and dilemmas affect their own site-specific story.
“I want to bring theatre to a new generation,” he adds. “People are more into the “experience economy”, and they need it to be incredibly exciting. “You’re not just watching zombies turn the corner in a corridor, you’re meeting them in an apocalyptic wasteland in the undead flesh in real life – or real death!”