Watch out! The zombies are coming

By Dionne Christian

'Apocalypse Z' is an immersive, semi-outdoor R13 show which takes audiences on an action-packed survival trip while posing a moral conundrum. Photo / Supplied
'Apocalypse Z' is an immersive, semi-outdoor R13 show which takes audiences on an action-packed survival trip while posing a moral conundrum. Photo / Supplied

Aotea Square's lawns look parched and desperate for rain after our dry summer of drought. But what if the lawns weren't the only desperate element in the square? What would happen if a horde of flesh-eating zombies, craving the taste of human brains and blood, rampaged up Queen St?

About four years ago, actors Simon London and David Van Horn were at Basement Theatre, just up the road from Aotea Square, when they joked about what they would do if people ran past screaming that zombies were coming. Pull down the roller door and hide was the most obvious answer but the more they thought about the scenario, the more they wanted to explore it through theatre.

Apocalypse Z is the result. It is an immersive, semi-outdoor R13 show which takes audiences on an action-packed survival trip while posing a moral conundrum: what would you do in this situation? Would you be true to your values and principles? Would you stay and fight - or flee?

The premise is that because of the Z virus, cities have fallen and authorities have lost control. Aotea Square is the final outpost where a skeleton crew of soldiers remain. When a mob of survivors arrives, they must join the military to stay alive.

Audiences - the set accommodates around 110 each night - play the survivors while a small cast of actors, including London and Van Horn, portrays soldiers or zombies. They have had no shortage of offers from friends and colleagues to play the zombies.

The actors ensure the script - loose as it is - is adhered to. Audio-visual effects, set design, lighting, costumes and props add to the authenticity.

What if it rains? Director/designer Andrew Foster says much of the show is under cover, but he doubts zombies would respect weather.

The team, which also includes former Weta design special-effects maestro Andrew Beattie, acknowledge the latest zombie zeitgeist comes at just the right time for Apocalypse Z.

"We can give people the real-life experience of what being in a zombie apocalypse - like those they've seen on TV shows like The Walking Dead - might be like," says Van Horn. "I've never grown up, so I still like to play war in the backyard with my friends and I like to play video games. This is like a real-life video game."

London adds that Apocalypse Z's success will depend on the story appealing to audiences.

While they say it isn't for the faint-hearted, they believe it will appeal to gamers and those who want to experience interactive theatre.

Every show could vary wildly, depending on audience responses.

Hackman Theatre's interactive space drama, Apollo 13, which continues to tour New Zealand and overseas four years after its premiere, is the closest Auckland has had to a show like Apocalypse Z.

London and Van Horn acknowledge that Apollo 13 was inspiring. They say Hackman's Kip Chapman encouraged them by telling them to trust their instincts and find creative ways to achieve their goals.

"Kip told us every time they do a run of Apollo 13, they take it to the next level," says Van Horn.

"We're writing our show so it can be played in other cities, so the story can be altered depending on where you are. We'd like it to tour."

If the enthusiasm shown by London, Van Horn and Foster is anything to go by, it means a zombie apocalypse could be coming soon to a town near you.


Performance

What: Apocalypse Z
Where and when: Aotea Square, April 12-27

- NZ Herald

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