We’ve become accustomed to the shuffling hordes on Swanston Street, those glued to screens as they fall into road works or have damaging brushes with moving trams. That ‘zombie apocalypse’ turns out to be a modest irritation compared to that affecting Melbourne as shown in Anno Zombie. The CBD’s mindless walkers now eat people, who rise from the dead to swell their unthinking ranks.
We meet our living characters holed up in Melbourne’s David Jones department store, peering out at the undead army wandering the streets below. Some wonder if they’re the last people in Melbourne, or maybe the world.
Billed as a ‘Zom Com’, the audience had cause to expect good laughs from a show attempting to add humour to the (much-visited) zombie genre. This was a smart twist to add, as to roughly quote the words of 15-year-old store-dweller Lee: “Zombies are as overexposed as shit!” Regrettably, Anno Zombie doesn’t make its point of difference work very well.
The show is 100 minutes with no interval, and the sluggish pacing made it feel like a very long drag across broken glass on bloodied stumps. Rather than being zombie-lean, the dialogue is often flabby. We shouldn’t have to endure more character backstory 60 minutes in when we’ve already heard the most important details. Having a zombie roll his wheelbarrow around the perimeter of the stage caused several slow scene changes exacerbating my feeling of being under-stimulated as an audience member.
Whilst there were some pockets of laughter in the opening night audience, many viewers found humour hard to come by. Where there was an opportunity for a good gag, it was often squandered. One prime example was a discussion between Lee and hipster and “organic providore” Harl about zombies. Harl remarked “I do appreciate that they do source their food locally.” Good writing would have recognised `punchline, move on’.
Not here. We have to endure the wasteful padding of Lee pointing out that Harl’s made a joke and Harl’s earnest protestation that he wasn’t trying to. The funniest bit was inadvertent; zombie ‘The Undude’ growling in complaint as he closed a door left open after an audience member exited during the play.
This play feels like a work in progress that needs substantial trimming and refocusing so that we might care about the characters more. The performers embraced their roles, and it was unfortunate that this work can’t give them a better reward for their talents, which shone brightest in the musical finale.
If you really need a zombie comedy, you’d be better off watching Shaun of the Dead. And so would anyone else who wants to write a Zom Com. The scene where survivors pummel zombies in a pub to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now shows how humour can arise from disparate elements working together, which is much more than juxtaposing them and hoping for the best.
The Loft – Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Thursday 7 September 2017 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 16 September
For more information, visit: www.baggageproductions.com for details.
Image: Matthew Dorning in Anno Zombie – photo by Michael Foxington Photography
Review: Jason Whyte