Generation of Z: Brain Chewing and Heart Rending

Generation of Z was a hell of a lot of fun. I went with an old hand, who told me exactly where to stand in order to be spattered with the most blood (She came out looking like a rakish Helena Bonham Carter, whereas I went home on the train looking like a crime statistic).

Right from the start, you are plunged into the world of a really good zombie film; there are “the cages” in the basement, filled with detritus from the old world, and hinting at things to come, and there is the notice board covered in messages and photos of the missing.

Generation Z separates its audience early on. One half of the survivors vanish through one door, and the other half through another. The moment is wonderfully tense, and chaotic. By the time the audience has split again, and you are crowded into a small room with only a dozen others, the radio that connect you to the rest of the living becomes very meaningful; a fragile link across an impassable space. This wasn’t promenade theatre. We were imposed upon, held at gunpoint, and we helped to barricade doors and clear escape routes. The labyrinthine nest of corridors that we moved through was a constant source of threat. There was no wall that you could back against that would keep you safe; attack could be coming from anywhere.

There was an excellent moment, midway through the show, one of my favourite kinds of theatre moments. The one when you can see something happening behind the actors; the sly, almost silent tip of the first domino which is going to end in an incredible mess and brains all over the place, and they haven’t seen it yet. The “it’s behind you” moment.

But unlike panto, our roles aren’t clear. We don’t hiss at the zombies, we don’t shout at the actors. None of us felt that we should say anything, because we had been told to interact only when we were interacted with. We didn’t want to spoil it.

And the domino tipped, the actors spotting the problem just too late, and there were energetic corpses running around all over the place. It was a magical piece of timing and drama.

“Listen to me. You have to listen to me,” one of the major characters begs us, from behind bars. And we listen, we crane in because we want to decide the fate of this underworld. But even as life and death decisions are beautifully acted out by the cast, so they are kept out of our hands.

What if down there, where the living dead stumble (and run. It was that kinds of zombie invasion), our choices really did matter? What does it cost to put the power into the hands of the audience?

Certainty. Safety. Quality. Possibly even the show.

In the case of `generation of Z that would have been a shame, as this was a triumph for lovers of the zombie genre, with powerful acting and gorgeous sets, costume and makeup (if a blood covered zombie gnawing at most of a liver while stumbling through an abandoned medical facility can be described as “gorgeous”).

Generation of Z made me think about agency; the creation of choices that affect a journey. Games create meaningful choice for the player, at the expense of story and drama. Theatre creates story at the expense of meaningful choice. But Generation of Z took a step closer to crossing this divide by making the audience active, engaged, and immersed.

A mildly transgressive classic. And yes, there are chainsaws in the show.

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