Deadinburgh

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on DEADINBURGH at Summerhall, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 20.4.13.
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4 stars ****

IT’S DIFFICULT to imagine a more perfect venue than Summerhall for an event like Deadinburgh, the big, loud, challenging live zombie movie – with mass audience participation – being staged there this weekend by London-based LAS Theatre, and The Gate Worlwide, a global creative agency. One on hand, there’s the sheer horror-movie thrill of a zombie plague story played out around the looming Summerhall complex, as the audience – divided into six groups, each with a different experience – is herded along by shouting, panicky soldiers; we catch occasional glimpses of the advancing army of infected zombies, devouring a corpse in the yard, or attacking the troops.

Then there’s the sheer political rightness of the setting, around the building’s bleak back courts, as we realise how quickly we surrender our freedom in times of crisis; the atmosphere is grim, totalitarian. And finally, there’s the history of the building – the old Royal Dick Vet College – as a centre of science; so that as the audience is drawn into the debate about the response to the crisis, we are led into laboratories and lecture rooms to hear teams of real-life scientists from leading UK institutions – epidemiologists, virologists, neuroscientists, psychotherapists – explain the options available, and help us make our collective decision.

In terms of theatre, Deadinburgh is a slightly chaotic and shouty experience; it seems to have been designed for an audience of about 80, and to be playing to almost twice that. The show achieves something special, though, in so effectively patrolling the boundary between straightforward horror-movie excitement, and the powerful ethical and strategic questions raised by a crisis that threatens not only our own lives, but the survival of the whole city. And while there’s plenty of talk, at the moment, about bridging the gap between arts and science, this is a show that actually does it; and provides a good, exhausting, thought-provoking night out, into the bargain.

ENDS ENDS

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