Live Live Cinema: Night of The Living Dead, held at the Hollywood Avondale, marks Silo Theatre’s unusual yet triumphant return to programming after a hiatus this year.
Held at the neo-classical theatre, the production features cult classic zombie film The Night Of The Living Dead playing on a projector screen, with two actors creating all music, sound effects and all but one character’s dialogue.
Given Silo’s standing in the performing arts realm, I’m surprised to see the Saturday performance is sparsely attended with approximately one-third of the seats filled. Very few people are dressed up for the Halloween weekend screening, which no doubt makes my date question my assurances that we were to wear something scary because yes, I’d definitely confirmed the dress code with Silo. Uh-oh.
Regardless, we’re feeling fun, and filled with excitement. I’ve never seen the film, and I can take or leave the horror genre, but I have seen the actors before and know we’re in for a treat. The concept is ambitious, plus the cinema screen is ready and waiting, with the stage between us intriguingly adorned with various props and paraphernalia—lamps, an electric guitar, a chest of drawers and who knows what else.
A lighting state signifies that the action is about to start, and Jack Buchanan (The Trojan War) and newcomer Isla Mayo (Not Woman Enough, Nora: A Doll’s House) enter from the wings. They are dressed simply, in white shirts and black pants, gazes fixed on what transpires to be monitors. George A. Romero’s black and white film begins—a ’60s car driving down the gravel road of a rural cemetery—and the two performers play ’80s-style electric keys and guitar for the original score (composed by Leon Radojkovic).
Then the physical wizardry starts—gravel is crunched underfoot, and wheels are turned by hand to match the action as the car comes to a stop. We meet Johnny and Barbra, the first two characters in the narrative, who are bickering about their father’s grave. Isla and Jack perfectly marry their dialogue with the big screen, inflections and tone evoking what we’d hear of the original sound mix. When the lead reaches for a bag of sweets in the glove compartment, so does Isla. When she cups a hand to her cheek, so does Isla; the effect is quite mesmerising, as the audience switches focus between the big screen and the talented individuals on stage.
What follows is a feat of endurance as a member of the undead lurches from the gloom, and then murders our main guy—to accompany this Jack wrestles himself into a pillow, mimicking the sounds of every tussle, grab and punch. It’s not long before a chase begins, with Barbra seeking shelter. Every single gasp, groan and wail from Isla matches what we’d expect from the lead actress. Hell, given how little the actress’s face moves (think Botox before it was even a thing), I’d even go so far as to say Isla’s performance far supersedes her predecessor’s.
After Barbra locks herself in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse she meets hero Ben, played by Duane Jones. As the only Black man in the cast, and honouring the landmark moment the film demonstrated for civil rights by having him as the lead, Ben is notably the only character whose dialogue is not dubbed over. That said, there’s no rest for the wicked. As more scared townspeople emerge from the woodwork, Jack and Isla throw their voices into what becomes, at times, a complete spectacle. As the action switches to the nearby cops and journalists, Jack takes on four characters whose distinct accents and dialogue almost overlap. Later, they are a pack of pitch-perfect police dogs—leaving the audience whooping with joy.
Both performers demonstrate profound skill during the production, leading to a rousing applause after the credits from the inexplicably small audience assembled. The film, infused with political undertones, feels largely appropriate for our current climate and leaves us feeling chilled.
If you’re a film or theatre buff, enjoy spectacle or nostalgia or want your breath taken away before returning to the comfort of your home, catch the run before it ends on November 12. No tricks, you’re in for a treat.
You can buy tickets to Live Live Cinema: Night of the Living Dead from $35 to $75 from iTICKET.
Featured image courtesy of Silo Theatre.