The Generation of Z is an experience. And it’s not just for those with a penchant for gothic horror films or teenagers who would like to indulge in some blood and gore – everybody should experience it.
We are in a post-apocalyptic world where the Z virus has created a class of walking undead, roaming the streets and they are here, right here in Edinburgh. Luckily so is the New Zealand army.
This is immersive theatre at its most provocative. The performance really starts with the safety briefing: warnings of live gunfire, possibilities of being manhandled, graphic violence, offensive language. The glee on some of the audience’s faces is evident while others exchange nervous looks.
And then we are marched down into the container yard of George Square and within moments it all starts. Beneath the inky sky threatening rain, approximately a hundred people are crushed together anxiously, excitedly awaiting something to happen.
It does. A zombie attacks a woman and within seconds the army arrives, unflinchingly ready to deal with these diseased specimens of humanity and they do so in the only way any self-respecting video game would: kill or be killed.
But it’s more than just fulfilling a voyeuristic doomsday fantasy. There is an element of visual consumption of the mangled, dead and infected that is encouraged by the story. A command to come face-to-face with not just who you are as an individual, but as one subject to hidden desires, unknown temptations and perhaps even, questionable ethics.
Would you let a father be reunited with his wife and daughter at the risk of being infected? Are you ready to help a very sick woman who appears to be an enemy of the government? Who do you trust? The members of the underground who warn you of the cruel fate that innocent civilians face or the army, the recognisable institution? Are you ready to die or be infected?
Big questions and no easy answers but the questioning is important, made all the more powerful by the superb acting. The core army personnel are NZ actors and their performances are unquestionably among the best that you will see at the Fringe this year: nuanced, charged, empathetic and ultimately recognisable.
Officer Frosty, the only woman of the group, is a standout performer involving audiences to be active civilians and take responsibility in securing (sometimes literally) their future against the zombies. She is the perfect counterbalance to her hot-headed partner Moose whose intensity and often expletive-laden language inspires both fear and moments of hilarity among his mostly submissive charges.
But at the end of the day (or in this case night) when a bunch of zombies are rapping against barricaded doors, there only seems to be one option. Or is there?
The Generation of Z pushes boundaries and has the potential to rock people’s universe in unprecedented ways.
With over 150 audience members (although divided early on into two groups) the experience is somewhat diluted depending on how tangible is the fear instilled into the audience at the very start.
With only an hour, the narrative is clear, linear and tightly packed with constant action driving material. Although some of the transitions are clunky and segues seem rather formulaic, the story propels itself towards one of the best endings you can experience at the Fringe.
The sets are impressive. Each environment is exceptionally designed with superior quality. The lighting is subtle and highly realistic, carefully enhancing the natural light in the various scenes; but together with the music (only used at the end) everything comes together for a grand finale – with back up from the local Scottish troops and an army of zombies. If The Generation of Z is based on moments of climax then it is the finale which really does set the standards high.
Although this is isn’t theatre where you choose your own individual experience (unless you go back and end up in the other group) there is a sense of active citizenship being encouraged, even demanded, that with further development could make this show unsurpassable in the realm of immersive transformative experiences.
Especially now, with the Ebola virus continuing to make waves across the world the timing is impeccable.
The Generation of Z is not just a zombie show – it highlights how each of us, any of us, have the potential to be someone (or something) that inspires both terror and awe.
In that respect, it has the scope and with further development, can be one of the most sublime experiences we can encounter.
NOTE: Earlier iterations of this work, produced by Royale Productions as a Generation Z Project, premiered as APOCALYPSE Z in Auckland NZ, April 2013 and played as ZOMBIE: RED ZONE in Christchurch NZ, April 2014.
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