The zombie apocalypse has started and it’s in Whitechapel. Tucked inside the former Wickham’s department store, on Mile End Road, Generation of Z aims to give punters the ultimate zombie experience. Recently a number of these undead shows have been springing up (2.8 Hours Later being the most notable), though where this varies from its competitors is that it’s almost completely scripted and participants will not hold a gun at any point. Indeed, for the most part, the content could be played out on stage and still stand up. However, that doesn’t make it any less thrilling or involving, as this is theatre at its most immersive.
The action begins in a derelict looking room. In small groups visitors begin to flood in and are left to explore. The walls are lined with posters of missing people scrawled with sad stories, corpses litter the corners and there’s pools of blood on the floor. The level of detail is truly immaculate and as realistic an end of the world scenario as any of us are (hopefully) likely to see. After a few minutes, allowing for visitors to take in their surroundings, the grim tranquillity is broken as a team of soldiers come sprinting round the corner. With guns in their faces the audience are lined up against the wall and assume the role of survivors. The actors then proceed to check each member for signs of infection, fill them in on the backing story and take out their first ‘infected’. Turns out there’s been an outbreak and this squad have followed a beacon into this compound. On top of this modest premise I’ll reveal no more, so as not to ruin the number of surprises lurking down the corridors. But I can say devotees of the zombie genre will not be let down. In every room there is a new source of horror, and in the rare quiet moments there’s footsteps, screams and blasts coming from elsewhere in the building. There’s a really good mixture of fan service and originality here, with a lot of the zombie tropes appearing, but never in a way that feels lazy or cheap.
This is partly down to the actors who sell the hell out of every scene, give their characters very different temperaments and share a great chemistry together. They mine the situation for drama and keep you on edge, yet they also exhibit exemplary comic timing. Furthermore, they involve the spectators at every opportunity – you are not allowed to get complacent. Events towards the start see the survivors split into different teams with each experiencing different stories and challenges. The strands then all come back together at the end, with the only dialogue between the crew coming from radios and some innovative use of CCTV that allows their individual plots to develop in real time. However, this means each actor is essentially left with a significant portion of the audience to themselves for much of the show’s duration. This means you may have a very different visit from your friends. For instance, myself and my flatmate took different routes and encountered entirely different frights and events. It is here the cast really show their devotion to the material and their considerable dramatic chops, keeping the inherently fantastical scenario as believable as it’s ever going to be and the people as invested as they can be. Along the way the crowd are regularly consulted and enlisted to aid the team. Some audience members are asked to do solo runs and others have to barricade doors. During my visit I had to help another visitor dispose of a body (while trying to avoid getting blood under my fingernails). Really, being passive is definitely not an option.
I am reluctant to say much more, except there is a lot of bloodshed and reanimated corpses jump out left, right and centre. And while at times the on-rails feel means you may not feel like a part of the action in the way you would with other touring shows, the closing sections reverse this completely. During the finale you’re forced to run down corridors where the undead grab at you, soldiers shout at you and music builds to a dramatic crescendo. Weaving in and out of the zombies to safety I felt a real mix of panic and pleasure – truly, this is the closest most of us will ever get to being in our own zombie film. And if that sounds even remotely appealing to you then get yourself down to London’s east end. It might be more expensive than the cinema, but for triggering something even the best movies of this type can’t it’s worth every penny. The horde look convincingly dead, but you’ll feel truly alive.