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Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Night of the Living Dead LIVE!

Night of the Living Dead™ Live! skirts the line between the horrific and the hysterical. It's the only production officially authorised by the Romero estate, paying loving homage to the film and recreating all those iconic scenes, alongside lots of new material for newcomers and hardcore fans alike.

BWW talked to two of its stars, Mike Bodie (Chief McClelland) and Mari McGinlay (Barbra).

Have I caught you between a matinee and evening show?

Mike Bodie (MB) - We cancelled the afternoon to get more time on stage. We've just gotten our props and set done. On paper, everything looks like it should work, but you throw a few humans in, of different sizes and tempos, and it all goes haywire and things start breaking. You've got to put it in the wringer!

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Mari McGinlay

As a reviewer, I've never lost my sense of wonder - I always think you guys should get at least three stars just for turning up and making it happen!

MB - I'm one of the founding members of Mischief Theatre (The Play That Goes Wrong etc). We were doing one of our earliest shows (which is now called Mischief Movie Night) on the fringe and we had a reviewer come. Her previous work was in literature and she had never done theatre journalism, let alone comedic theatre. The show was improvised - very niche as a structure. She didn't understand why we were just making it up there and then.

I saw Peter Pan Goes Wrong on the revolve stage here [at the Pleasance London].

MB - We used it for a gag - when it gets stuck during a scene change.

What parts do you play in Night of the Living Dead Live!?

MB - I play Chief McClelland.

Mari McGinlay (MM) - I play Barbra / Karen.

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Ashley Samuels, Jennifer Harding
and Marc Pickering

And I bet there's plenty of /ing goes on!

MM - Plenty! But there's more slashing for other people! Karen is a nine-year-old child who you see only briefly.

MB - Some people do get slashed; others do the slashing - I am the latter.

The audience wear robust boilersuits in The Splatter Zone [designated seats for the brave] and they can take all the splattering! As we discovered in a preview, what we didn't take into account was people's hair and faces!

We won't know how much things need adjusting until we actually do it, because it's such a prop and tech cue heavy show. It's not like just letting the sisters wish that they finally get to Moscow.

Why Night of Living Dead (NOTLD) 51 years on from the cinema release?

MB - If you were to watch the film in its original black and white, it's not exactly stood up to the test of time. After acknowledging the cult following it has due to its content (zombies) and the concepts it brings to mainstream cinema and media, it's very ripe for a satirical take. That's similar to the comedy take on The Thirty-Nine Steps that ran for a decade or more at the Criterion Theatre , I believe.

Night of the Living Dead has great scope for satire, due to its original constraints - a shoestring budget.

MM - With its action confined to just one house, there's always something hilarious about having just one setting. Our director mentioned a production where they had just a room with two doors, but they still made it work comedically.

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Tama Phethean and Marc Pickering

Is this a revival of a previous production?

MB - The original stage show was done (I believe) in Canada.

There's an element of satire in the title Night of the Living Dead Live! It's also a reaction to a lot of jukebox musicals titles- Dirty Dancing Live! (On Ice)!! So NOTLD Live! makes it a bit of a joke in and of itself.

MM - Maybe there was a licensing thing in the end, as this UK premiere is the only version signed off by the Romero Estate. Little jokes and bits that we've changed had to be sent off to be okayed. It's still that kind of homage to the film.

How do you strike a balance between the horror and the laughs?

MB - Humans are born with two fears - loud noises and heights. Since the audience is sitting down, heights are out, so loud noises, surprises and jump shocks are devices that can work in theatres. You think something is one thing but it turns out to be another. The show uses those elements.

We can't hide the fact that we dress up as different characters and different zombies to imply that there are a number of them. But the audience knows it's just us!

There's room for shocks and surprises, but at its core, it's a comedy.

MM - There is so much comedy in being shocked - when people get a fright, their reaction is to laugh it off. We play on that, particularly in the first act - it keeps them on the edge of their seat. And then they laugh and we're into a comedy moment. It's a good balance, until we're into the second act when it all goes to hell!

MB - There's almost an embarrassment factor when you get scared and go "Oh My God!" - you show your vulnerability and others see it and laugh. You join in the laughter almost as a coping mechanism - "See I'm not afraid - I'm laughing too".

The first act establishes the core narrative moments of the film, the characters too. It's a condensed version of the whole movie. The second act shows what might have happened if people had behaved differently - if only they had done X, Y or Z.

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Mari McGinlay

Why is horror done so infrequently in theatre?

MB - I saw The Woman In Black as a young teenager!

Aside from the logistical cost of washing the gore out of costumes every night, there is the fact that people go to the theatre for emotional release and escapism. For me personally, I get scared at horror films, so I avoid them through genuine fear.

MM - I was forced to watch House on Haunted Hill and that's the most scary thing! Doing this, being on the other side, at least I won't get scared! We're the ones scaring people.

I'm surprised that there isn't more horror, because it's such a thing - vampires with Twilight etc. Maybe they can come back, because it's looks so cheesy now.

NOTLD was so of its time that somebody watched it and saw the scope for it to be funny and scary. I think people enjoy that more than something that's just scary - because how much can you scare people over two hours?

Do you see this show as part of a wider zeitgeisty moment with the success of zombie movies like Get Out and Train to Busan?

MB - The zombie genre is not so much about the monsters, but the situations that result from the danger. In The Walking Dead, for example, the individuals are presented with situations of which they have no experience or which allow their darker sides to come out. There's family members and other people involved - "He's not your brother any more - he's a zombie!"

You have to let go of things you love. The real monsters in zombie movies are the people left alive, forced into uncomfortable situations. The adversity reveals their true selves.

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Jennifer Harding, Tama Phethean,
Marc Pickering and Ashley Samuels

MM - It shows human nature - what people are like at their most vulnerable. I think that's more interesting to watch - the characters inside the house. It turns into a Lord of the Flies situation.

MB - There's a bit of romanticising with people saying, "Well if that happened, I would do this".

In stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, it's not so much the fear of the wolf, it's more about who you can rely on when the wolf comes and you're on your own.

Is there any satirical take on current concerns about social media's echo chambers destroying the perspectives that lead to critical understanding of issues and, therefore, people behaving like zombies?

MB - There's mileage in the idea of people not understanding what it is that makes something true. We're so accustomed to using phones and Google to find out about things - but our phones listen to us and record what we do, so the information we're fed is constructed on that basis. It's difficult to distinguish that "truth" from the real "truth".

Interview: Mike Bodie and Mari McGinlay Talk NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE! at Pleasance London
Ashley Samuels and Marc Pickering

In the play, it's very rare that any character ventures into the outside world - it isn't safe. They look through the window, but they stay with what they know.

In horror movies, the role of women is to scream, run away and be killed (which felt "wrong" in 1978 and is preposterous in 2019). Where do women fit into the play - and the genre?

MM - With the whole "Time's Up" thing, there are moments of humour around this issue. You feel people getting uncomfortable with the clichéd stereotype - so audiences are changing.

In one scene, the women do take charge and the audience react so differently. You can see that the public won't settle for the screaming woman as the only representation allowed.

There's one female character in the play who is actually pulling all the strings - and the audience know that. Things have moved on!

Night of the Living Dead LIVE! is at the Pleasance London until 8 June.

Photos Claire Bilyard

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