It is 2015. London has fallen. The deadly Z virus is transforming the global population into a rapid horde of the infected. With societal structure collapsing, humanity is faced with a desperate battle for survival.
Brace yourselves, pack the essentials and plan an escape route, because this Spring a high-velocity theatre experience is exploding into London, where audiences find themselves in the midst of none other than a zombie apocalypse… described as multi-media storytelling on steroids, a unique story unfolds around them in real time and they must navigate their way through the barren wasteland (in reality, a purpose built venue in Whitechapel) to survive.
One question I must ask… If the possibility of a real life zombie apocalypse is such a common, rational fear, however farfetched it may be – and trust me, I know a fair few with this phobia! – then why is it so popular as a theme in popular culture? Casting our minds to other zombie-focused media such as the television series The Walking Dead, computer games like Left 4 Dead, and even a zombie fitness app, Run, Zombie, why is it that the half-dead infected scare us all to such an extent that we actually start to enjoy ourselves?
The Generation of Z: Apocalypse is set to open in London on 4 April after critically acclaimed runs in both New Zealand and at the Edinburgh Fringe, so this week I chatted to Colin Mitchell and Charlie McDermott, Director and Producer of The Generation of Z about the concept behind this utterly unique and immersive live theatre experience, and why zombies are so darn crowd-pleasing.
“The appeal of the zombie genre is tied to how high stakes everything is,” Mitchell explained, “life and death, potentially having to kill those you love, what it means to be human – and the sheer joy of a little bit of blood and guts – what’s not to adore?” I then went on to question Mitchell which elements of the experience audiences seem to enjoy above others. “The audiences members aren’t spectators – they have to get hands-on throughout the show. This is an experience that you can’t have anywhere else: you can’t download it, you can’t watch it at home, you can’t pirate a copy. It’s visceral – with effects so real that you can smell them, and a show that literally grabs you by the collar and drags you through the experience!”
Something I have no doubt about when chatting to Mitchell and McDermott is that they must have some memorable stories of customers braving the Generation of Z experience, a theory very much confirmed after hearing the story of a lady wetting herself! “In Edinburgh we had a stag party of twelve through and the stag went missing,” McDermott reminisced, “At the end of the show we searched and searched and finally found him sound asleep in one of the make shift huts in a set area called Shanty Town. He had crawled in there at the beginning of the show and missed the entire thing!”
After McDermott continued to tell me tales of various audiences, it is undeniable the public tend to, to put it lightly, get stuck in and truly forget the outside world… “We have had all levels of engagement from our audiences, from fake back-stories about having to kill their families at the library, to cynical fathers telling us after they found something inside themselves they didn’t know existed.” “From the minute they arrive, the audience are endowed as survivors,” Mitchell added, “they’re thrown into the world with world-class set design and prosthetics; their reactions are guttural and authentic. Of course, every audience is different, but the show is unrelenting, so they don’t have a choice except to jump on board and enjoy the ride!”
And where do Mitchell and McDermott see the genre of immersive storytelling leading to in the future of theatre? “As the genre becomes more and more established, we’ll see a fusion of cinema quality special effects and set design, and increasingly tailored experiences that merge the line between multi-media performances and video gaming,” McDermott explained, “Augmented and virtual reality that brings the show more and more into the real world. However, unless the shows have a strong narrative and genuine human emotion, people won’t connect with them.”
Considering audience members both brave and suffering from kinemortophobia (apparently that means you’re afraid of zombies), I struggled to picture the public emerging from the apocalyptic wasteland after destroying a population of zombies. Both therapy and super-inflated machismo and strength spring to mind, but what do the brains behind The Generation of Z really want audiences to take away with them? “Post-traumatic stress? Night terrors?” Mitchell laughed, (I was half-right then), “A desire to come back and experience the show again?”
Above all else I have no doubt that an experience so immersive, thrilling and unpredictable will appeal to London audiences, and my thoughts were brilliantly proven by Mitchell: “It’s that universal tale; a cocktail of government and corporate distrust, post-apocalyptic undead rioting and gallons of blood”.
The Generation of Z: Apocalypse is on from 4 April. For more information go to their website.