Shaun of the Dead , The Dancehouse, 22nd – 24th July 2015
It could be argued that you should know what to expect when viewing a stage version of Shaun of the Dead. This would be a different trip to the theatre than many. There were unlikely to be any pretensions, soliloquys would be at a minimum, and if you were after a serious chat about staging in the bar afterwards, you’d more than likely come to the wrong place. Based on a cult classic style film that burst into the mainstream, the humour should be familiar. There’d be fart jokes, juvenile references to sex with mums, endearing immaturity, all with a pretty basic tale of redemption pumping along underneath.
And that’s fine. But it might have been nice if some of those fart jokes, some of those references to sex with mums, had differed at least a little bit from the original. That wasn’t the plan with this adaptation. In fact, Almost Legal Productions’ version of Simon Pegg’s classic of both the zombie and the comedy genres sticks so close to the original that audience members were able to shout out the lines of the play before the actors even opened their mouths. Audience participation was encouraged, so this was probably intended, but it does leave you wondering why they bothered with all the hard work of adapting it in the first place.
The almost grating insistence on sticking to the original didn’t end with the dialogue, either. Perhaps most annoying of all was the decision to have the two lead actors, Chas Burn as Shaun and Ross Millward as Ed, spend the entire show doing barely passable impressions of the two who played their roles originally. Their attempts to put on the voices of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were baffling even when the play was fun, and as the night went on they passed from baffling to downright irritating.
That’s a pretty damning beginning to a review, so let’s take a step back. It’s important to point out that there were definitely some fun elements to this performance and that, despite the impressions that would make Rob Brydon cringe, this did seem like a quite enjoyable night out for at least the first half hour. The room was clearly packed with fans of the film, and as we were armed with fake mobile phone and inflatable cricket bats, it became clear that we might get a chance to bash some zombies as they passed through the crowd. Audience participation isn’t for everyone, but for those who got into it there was a chance to up the amusement levels of the night.
That’s about as far as the praise can go. For a whimsical twenty minutes or so, it was easy to pretend that watching a bad parody and wielding an inflatable weapon was an enjoyable way to spend an evening. But when, factoring in the more than half hour interval, that evening drags on for almost three hours, it becomes apparent that what is happening on the stage is something of a shambles. A bit like watching one sketch from an Alistair McGowan show that goes on for the length of The Godfather Trilogy.
It was tempting to dig through the box of DVDs under the bed and stick the original in my laptop when I got home. Pegg and Frost have had hits and misses since this 2004 smash hit, but as British comedies go Shaun of the Dead deserves to be considered among the best of modern times. Not just a gory comedy, but also a brilliant pastiche of a genre, a nod to some of the classics of the past, and in many ways a game changer. A comedy that also used special effects to bring a bit of terror. Without the special effects, or the originality, or the charm of Pegg and Frost, this was a play that couldn’t end quickly enough. If you’ve got the DVD, you know what to do.