Originally performed in New Zealand and now coming off the back of critical success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Generation of Z: Apocalypse is a fantastic fusion of theatre and horror survival game. It bears all the hallmarks of the latter, moving from set-piece to set piece in calculated peaks and troughs of suspense, guided by stereotypically gruff marines. The story has been told countless times before, but not quite from this perspective. London is gone, overrun by the undead, and we’ve been corralled into an abandoned underground refugee camp. The set design is utterly fantastic and they know it, giving you plenty of time in each area to peruse the various discarded items and overlapping letters, notices and photographs, particularly in the dank room where it all begins.
Then someone started coughing. It was the perfect start, slipping the crowd right into their role without any resistance as the chap quite happily chatting earlier lurched towards two screaming girls retching up blood. The marines storm in just too late, and put the creature, and the girls, down with some very loud guns (At one moment, a member of the audience strayed too close to a zombie as a shot went off and a very concerned, but still in character, marine had to take a moment to make sure she was fine. It seemed they were firing some pretty potent blanks.). The unwieldy audience soon became separated, leaving my group with the rookie despite my attempt to shuffle towards the bearded veteran barking orders at everyone else. Though it was somewhat disappointing to only be getting a portion of the story, it made practical sense and it was at least enjoyable to talk about our unique experiences at the end of the show.
The audience interaction was where it really shined. Everyone got attention and plenty to do, from building and tearing down barricades to holding doors against a horde of zombies to rifling through rooms to find some map or other MacGuffin. It’s hard to spend any quiet moments not scanning every entrance for shadows flitting underneath the doors or shuffling footsteps, and the ripple through the crowd as one person realises something is coming and nudges their neighbour was always fun to watch. The real highlight was an incredible laboratory, complete with a drooling mad scientist (who committed so fiercely to his role it was hard not to be on edge interacting with him) straight out of Resident Evil.
The plot itself wasn’t of any real consequence other than the basic rules of this strain of zombie story, though it made great use of planted confederates and plenty of surprise twists, and even audience decisions affecting the result. I certainly had the feeling that had a certain group not botched their side of things, we may have emerged with fewer dead marines. It all moved along quickly, making the 75 minute performance feel as full as any film, zombies pushing at your back all the way and culminating in a brilliant and adrenaline pumping sprint to the end.
The one minor problem I encountered (admittedly, on a press night) was overcrowding. It was hard for the majority of the slightly oversized crowd to abandon politeness in cramming through small doorways as the undead snapped at our heels, while the actors hidden within may have been more impactful if I’d noticed them at all in the first place. This minor quibble aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable live experience, and for a reasonably low price (excluding the cost of getting bloodied clothing washed by suspicious dry cleaners) The Generation of Z: Apocalypse was definitely an experience to recommend.