Working with Babeworld on inaugral Digital Routes programme
6th October 2021
In Night of the Living Dead, there’s a moment when a group of scientists and an army general are besieged by reporters demanding to know what might have caused the circumstances that have driven the recently dead to rise up and devour the living (“….they’re dead flesh and dangerous”). It was interesting to read that George Romero felt uneasy about this moment in the film, that he felt the scene was unnecessary and a little trite. Indeed, he never films a similar moment in any of the subsequent movies, although he repeatedly revels in the media’s confused and alarmist way of dealing with the various forms of global crises that populate his storylines. Of course, given what’s happening around us now, this scene feels frighteningly apposite. The scientists’ cries of “later”, the contradictions between experts and politicians, the sense of muddle and stupidity, the closing statement, “we’re doing everything possible to solve this situation.” Isn’t this what we are all currently experiencing?
Panic lies at the centre of Night of the Living Dead; panic as a reaction to crisis and the panic that endures when competing interests arise; panic as people argue over what might be the best solution to problems that quickly escalate out of control. In our shot for shot recreation of the movie, which was sadly cancelled in Manchester’s HOME last week because of the present Covid-19 crisis, there was always a great deal of panic on the stage. It was the energy that drove all the on-stage action. There are over a thousand shots in an hour and half film and that’s a lot to complete in real time. What I found fascinating, however, was how our cast pulled together to achieve the nearly seamless recreation of the original. What we rely on here is committed ensemble acting. One second an actor is filming, the next holding a prop, the next being a shoulder in the foreground, running, spinning, falling, dodging the camera, suddenly dropping out of shot, changing costumes, angles, positions. Indeed, as the production ran its course over the two months of its tour the actors became more and more in control of the material. That sense of panic that pervaded those opening performances in Leeds Playhouse started to dissipate. And yet despite this, the task demanded by our staging always felt like it could make the performance fall to pieces at any moment. And I loved the energy, the tension, that this possibility of complete breakdown created on the stage.
Despite the film’s portrayal of the tragedy that occurs when people fail to pull together, the success of our performance always depended on committed collaboration. It was an interesting and vital contradiction. I suspect this was also true of the original movie. Night of the Living Dead was made by a group of friends and associates, who called in favours, raised funds through their families and known clients. It was made on a shoestring and yet did not pull its punches when it came to sophisticated storytelling and an attempt to mirror the reality that such a crisis would have in American society. This is where some of the politics of the movie originates, in an ability to gather elements together to construct a narrative that both entertains and has political resonance. And this resonance is both in the storyline and in the form of its telling. The sense of chaos, of utter breakdown is only realised through a strenuous working together, an overcoming of odds to make it all cohere.
It feels comforting then, as we move from the space of playing to actuality, from fiction to our daily reality, that that behind chaos might lie order because order is what we are relying on at the moment. Order and working together, collaborating, in adversity, for a greater good. The final words of the movie, “Another one for the fire”, may sound frightening in one sense, but maybe what’s for the fire is not dangerous dead flesh but rather it’s selfishness, the egotistical search for power, patriarchy and violence that are set for the pyre. Collaboration is all. It’s all we really have.
March 26th 2020
Production photograph by Ed Waring
6th October 2021