Reviews West End & Central Published 29 April 2015

Generation of Z

Dept W ⋄ Until 5th July 2015

Dead again.

Stewart Pringle

Lauren: Unlike our previous adventures, I was pretty anti-this, and I’m not sure why. For no clear reason, I got stuck on the idea that I was going to get CHASED, which I absolutely cannot handle. I think I was like 50% scared of being pursued down a corridor and 50% nervous that I would get too into it and punch an actor? You know, the usual. So you really had to talk me into going at all.

The marketing is quite London Tombs-esque, it’s eye-catching and gory and very, you know, bitey-bitey, but they made a clear point of saying to everyone before it started: “This isn’t a scare attraction, it’s a play.” The context for that is basically them asking you not to talk over the actors, which is fair enough, but I did think it was an interesting thing to foreground. They nail their colours to the mast by saying that; it’s a statement of intent that, to me, implies a focus on ENGAGING and entertaining and even moving you over making you afraid.

That feels worth keeping in mind, because Generation of Z was so completely not what I expected. It felt a lot more deliberate and well-loved than I thought it would? I pictured quite cheap scares in terms of, you know, just people popping out of everywhere looking rank and trying to touch your face, but actually it felt like the scares in this came out of making you feel something for the characters. Which was great.

Stewart: There was a lot less chasing than I had expected. I mean, I had pretty much expected to be doing a Zombie Run, and then when the first thing you’re told is ‘Rule Number One: No Running’ it’s a bit of a surprise. You definitely feel like they’re pre-warning you not to be a dick, and that they’re aware of the very real possibility of people being total dicks. It has obviously been advertised as more of a scare attraction, and as we were sort of saying before it all started, that’s probably because people hate theatre but they quite like experiences. In a way that means it’s selling itself short, because as you say, it’s actually got a surprising amount of depth for a scare attraction, but then on the other hand, it’s got a totally shit plot for theatre.

My first impression, when the experience proper begins and we’re asked to line up by a bunch of soldiers and we’re inspected for bites and everyone’s talking ominously about ‘the infected’ and what a shitstorm the rest of the country has become, was how familiar it all seemed. It’s not like I’ve been to all that many zombie experiences (maybe more than your average bear, but not that many) but as well performed and designed as the room was, I just felt like fast-forwarding. The visual language of military vs zombies is just something that’s now so ubiquitous in cinema, video games, immersive experiences and the like that my expectations were pretty low. So when the action kicked off, and the headshots started ringing out I was very pleasantly surprised. If pleasantly is the right word.

They’re using proper, properly loud weapons, and when they take a pot-shot at a zombie‘s head there’s an explosion of grue up the wall. There are LOADS of zombies, pressing at the fences like the ones in Day of the Dead. We’re split up into smaller groups so you’re not constantly craning to see and you’re also experiencing one of several unique narrative threads. There’s a total hottie called Moose (Miles Yekinni), playing the wise-cracking party dude of the military group (the Michelangelo, if you will). And though the plot follows the familiar beats of small rooms under siege, injured comrades and desperate proles searching for their relatives, it’s consistently engaging and occasionally even a little moving. The performers are genuinely excellent, and their interactions with the audience are great. Though my initial reaction to one woman whining on about her daughter who’d wandered deep into undead territory was to toss her in there too, by the time they both met their gruesome end, I’d been successfully drawn in. I mean, I still voted to leave them to die, but it was a close run thing.

Lauren: Yeah, it’s inevitably quite hard to talk about the experience as a whole because we only had one bit of it. I suppose we should’ve tried to get sent to different bits when they split us up, but that was really early on and I was 100% not up for being left alone at that point…

There’s some really nice use of tech – it fits well with the internal logic of the piece, but they use it to give you a glimpse of all the other strands, and that’s fun. They must have really drilled the actors – it’s amazing to think that they’re all working separately to the exact same time scale, even when doing something as inexact and variable as interacting with the public.

Even though we didn’t get to go with the hottie, our peer into all the other strands made us feel like we’d had the best break-out experience – ours had lots of different tasks and bits of narrative going on, and a nice Grim Medical Bay aesthetic. Though I’d say ours was the least engaged with the overall plot – to the extent that when we all got brought back together, I had not one shitting clue what anyone was talking about and didn’t really care. So that made the ending a bit disappointing.

Even though the acting was definitely more theatre-quality than scare attraction, as you’ve said, the plot was pretty wonk – and more than anything, tired. We talked a bit about how there have been different ‘ages’ of zombies and trends in zombie narratives, didn’t we…?

Dawn of the dead.

The dozing dead.

Stewart: I guess it feels like we’ve been ‘so over’ zombies for such a long time that we might even have come out of the other side again. Leaving aside the various ‘Generations of Z’ of yore (the White Zombie age of the 1930’s with Bela Lugosi playing the voodoo master, the social realism of Romero’s first Dead movies, the Italian maggot-faced years with Lucio Fulci, the mildly revisionist 90’s) and just looking at the past decade or so – we’ve gone from 28 Days Later through Sean of the Dead to a point where most peoples primary media zombie experience is blocking their way with pot-plants on their iPads. It does make you wonder what the attraction is for immersive experience creators to keep returning to the same well.

Because as you say, there is some really clever and well thought through stuff going on. The moment where we were hemmed into a medical bay, watching fellow parties of survivors taking part in their own set-pieces (or were they, eh?) on video screens, was brilliantly managed. The levels of violence and the quality of the jump-scares and special effects really did take me by surprise and the fact that you know that at any moment shit could get really nasty. In the first scene some zombie gets head-shotted and blood sprays up the graffiti-peppered wall. One unlucky audience member has to pull a chunk of shrapnel out of some gun-bunny’s stomach with a pair of forceps. In the finale, Moose takes a chainsaw to a zombie and slices it into pieces.I completely agree that the plot disintegrated almost entirely by the final scene, and yeah, maybe some of the other parties got to experience more of it. It seemed to be an attempt at a Colonel Kurtz kind of thing – like the guy left in charge of this base had just murdered all of the civilians in his care because he’d gone fruit-loops? But actually, that’s what they were going to do to us anyway, wasn’t it? So who knows? Who cares? I mean, come for the zombies, stay for the chasing. And speaking of the chases (or rather the chase)…

Lauren: Yeah, so there is this one properly GREAT bit where it suddenly goes all London Tombs and just sticks you in with shedloads of creepy deads, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous – they’ve built up to and earned it by then. Wibbly narratives aside.

I did my usual thing the whole way through of anticipating scares that didn’t come, and thinking people would pop out of every crevice and pile of clothes like some Equity-rate whack-a-mole – but these things are never as frightening as I anticipate, so I was feeling Strong and Brave by the final chase. I quite enjoyed it, although I think I did tell an actor to fuck off (sorry mate) and also one girl sort of…was that crying? Or just a bit of a panic? Anyway, somebody had jumped out at her and she was having to receive some serious coaxing from a pal to carry on.

I don’t know. It’s some of the most filmic theatre I’ve seen, which can be good or bad.

Stewart: It is very filmic, I’m just not sure it’s a film I want to see. I feel like I’ve seen it enough times. And played it. And experienced it. I enjoyed it all on an immediate level, but it’s faded in the memory pretty quickly and I wouldn’t rush out to see it or a similar show again anytime soon. And that’s the rub, I think. If I’m forking out £40 for an immersive experience then I want it to be a memorable one – I’m not going to forget Doing Crime anytime soon, or my visit to Temple Studios. But watching a soldier headshot a screaming ghoul has just sort of become the background wallpaper of everyday life. It’s like the default setting.

Lauren: I’m valiantly resisting the instinct to make a crack about what your everyday life must be like if THAT is the ‘background wallpaper’. But yeah, basically. It’s nothing people haven’t seen before.

Stewart Pringle and Lauren Mooney do some crime.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Generation of Z Show Info


Written by Benjamin Farry , Beth Allen

Cast includes Robyn Patterson, Miles Yekinni, Rebecca Scott, Benjamin Farry

Link http://www.thegenerationofz.com/

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