Anno Zombie is a delightful and delicious comedy if you don’t mind brains for breakfast at the David Jones food hall, in an apocalyptic Melbourne.
Chapel off Chapel theatre hosts Baggage Productions sublimely ridiculous ‘zom-com’; about a genetically induced cull of the human race. The colourful collective of characters from all demographics and classes, have one thing in common, they’re all alive, for now?
Writer Bridgette Burton, Director Natasha Broadstock and a marvellous cast, trace the last days and lives of unlikely shoppers, inside Melbourne’s exclusive David Jones department store. They’re not there for the next mid-year clearance; they’re seeking solace from hoards of hungry zombies and hoping to stay alive.
A middle-aged couple, two singles and a blossoming teenager, have been coexisting for weeks on the various floors of the store. The masterfully crafted script and astute direction slowly unpack the hidden agendas and shortcomings of the sole survivors and their outside adversaries, the zombies trying to get in for a sumptuous feast of their brains.
We first meet Vera (Kelly Nash) and Freddie (Bruce Langdon) a middle-aged couple formerly from Brighton. They’ve left their infected hungry neighbours behind munching on their dog and each other, in search of their only son working in the city. The snobby couple returns from fending off zombie attacks post another exploration at their son’s office building, where he was last seen prior to the outbreak of genetic mutations. They deliberate the day’s events in their deluded lives, pretending to still live in Brighton on the fifth floor of the store. Almost a month has passed and Vera is appalled they’ve been reduced to eating ‘home brand’ crackers from the store’s food hall.
Next, thirty something Harl (Glenn van Oostercom), has a hairstyle, black jeans and ‘Vans’ runners, indicative of his former Hipster lifestyle, busies himself on the ground floor with self-sustainable and environmentally friendly remedies, when he is joined by budding seventeen-year-old Lee (Taylor Smith-Morvell). It’s hard for a teenage boy to keep busy with no Wi-Fi and only the Wham music collection on his damaged iPhone. Lee makes do by bopping to tracks, dressing up in clothes he finds in the menswear department and making nick names for the zombies outside in the mall.
Lee points out into the audience (the envisaged Bourke Street Mall) at the walking dead and explains the origins of their pet names. Most zombies have become passive and have returned to performing tasks from their previous vocations or their last moments. He gestures to a zombie he’s particularly fond of, The Undude (Mathew Dorning), a zombie who walks around on crippled limbs and snacks on dismembered human hands, whilst collecting the bodies of dead humans in a wheelbarrow. Dorning is a fantastic comic relief and a brilliant distraction between scene changes and gives perfectly timed snarls that shock the audience.
Broadstock’s direction cleverly expands Burton’s layered script. She creates depth and illusion as Harl and Lee look out into the audience at the perceived zombies and discover a survivor! Former Personal Shopper Lizzie (Tiffany Davis) has been masquerading as a zombie, undetected and was unawares of the other survivors. The guys welcome her and Harl has designs on her under the disguise of re-populating the planet. His primal urges and fumbling foreplay deter Lizzie. Their relationship becomes awkward and the large store isn’t big enough to keep them apart.
Not every survivor has made it to the city yet. Former Loans Officer Ray (Dan Walls) and his Geneticist wife Philly (Lauren Bailey) battle their way from the bayside suburb of Mordialloc to the city. Ray has found his manhood protecting his wife and killing zombies. He dodges the deadly assailants, enjoys performing unnecessary Commando rolls, and wields a makeshift vacuum cleaner that shoots tennis balls. Philly is enamoured by her husband’s newfound masculinity. The pair reaches the store alive and later we learn why Philly suffers from bouts of guilt and remorse.
The six survivors eventually come together to celebrate young Lee’s debutant ball and his coming out into society. The affluent character Vera candidly questions and mocks his sexuality. Just one of the poignant and current political undertones embedded in the performance. Hipster Harl delivers a line that suggests humans are already the ‘living dead’ from mundane jobs, isolation, technological devices, family separation, environmental issues, organic food and housing sustainability.
The engrossing story is filled with well-delivered quips, unexpected twists, underlying plots and endearing family issues. Yet some of the explanative scenes were not necessary.
Baggage Productions fun and lighthearted perspective of the genre includes characteristic zombie gurgling and visceral background voice-overs, nostalgic Wham tracks, minimalist and effective blood splattered sets, complete with familiar David Jones branding of ‘hounds-tooth’ inspired flats.
Nash and Langdon were one of the standout performances and lend their superb voices in a touching duet. Again, Nash and Langdon’s expertise was obvious as was Smith- Morvell’s energy. Van Oosterom, Davis, and Bailey infused the otherwise hilarious production with sincere somber moments and Wall’s back breaking rolls and Dorning’s animated deformities were astounding.
Anno Zombie is a humorous and charming reprise of the usual predictable and gory genre. Baggage Productions brings a welcome and cheerful discussion of the topical issues in society today.