What To Do In London This Week: Generation Of Z

One writer documents his battle with the walking dead... in Whitechapel

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The zombie appears out of nowhere.

“Get back!” yells a soldier as my friend and I awkwardly attempt to scramble out of the way, the reanimated figure flailing its way towards us.

BANG. The undead creature falls lifelessly to the floor. The soldier turns to my group.

“Did it touch you?” he yells at a sea of blank faces.  

“DID IT TOUCH YOU?” the soldier bellows again, bounding towards us over fallen tables and scattered chairs.

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“It touched him,” my friend quips, pointing at me.

I feel the gun against my head within seconds.

“Show me your fucking eyes,” the soldier orders.

I yank my eyelids downwards as a torch shines into my pupils. “I swear it didn’t touch me,” I manage, attempting to withhold my steely composure.

The gun is transferred to my mate’s temple.

“You joke again, you’re dead.”

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Welcome to Generation of Z, a slice of immersive live-action theatre that places you squarely into the dark heart of a zombie apocalypse, which has staggered its way from New Zealand to an underground warehouse in London’s Whitechapel via a sojourn at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The setup is simple: the deadly Z virus has transformed the world’s population into a rabid horde of the infected. Stranded in a complex overrun with the undead, can you make it out alive?

Initially part of an overwhelmingly large group of excited participants – 80 strong – you are slowly whittled down to 20, each group experiencing different plot strands. Ours involves a mad doctor attempting to find a cure in order to save the life of his infected wife. It doesn’t end well.

The actors are trained to roll with the crowd’s decisions. Take the moment I pique the attention of the exasperated soldier in charge of my group by telling him he’s doing a good job. He immediately asks me for my name. “Mind going to the back and keeping watch, Jacob?” he asks as we prepare to head through a door that had been barricaded closed moments before… a door that bore the blood-smeared words ‘do not enter.’ “Sure thing boss,” I reply, unexpectedly assuming a protector role. 

The pull of participation is almost as infectious as the zombies trying to eat us.

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Trailing the group as we’re led through what seems like endless corridors of darkness, the sound of action surrounding us – shouts; screams; death creeping ever nearer – makes me realise how much detail has gone into ensuring this experience remains unlike any on offer in the city. Who knew a labyrinthine warehouse rested under the streets of Whitechapel, a mere ten minute jaunt from the tube?

It’s in this smaller group that we make our way down a lengthy corridor into a surgical room. Still keeping watch at the back, I become more aware of the expanse of space I'm leaving behind me with every new step. There are six people in front when the door slams open somewhere behind me, unleashing a quick-paced zombie I can only hear. “Move!” I shout, pushing on the people in front. Entering the room seconds later, I seal the door shut at the exact moment the zombie’s body slams up against it, clawing the window like an animal whose food has been cruelly snatched away.

There are numerous moments when I feel genuine panic like I’m an endangered character inhabiting this world. It’s these intimate moments where Generation of Z feels like something special. This is alarming considering my initial cynicism had kept my excitement at bay in the run-up to the 8pm start time. Allowing yourself to get swept up in the action is imperative.  

It’s unfortunate that it's bookended by scenes where the groups all merge back together, overcrowded to the point where you lose your affiliation with the action. Sporadic sniggers and bursts of unwarranted applause from the faceless mob threatened to derail the performance I saw – a shame considering there were moments I'd genuinely felt as badass as Rick Grimes (minus the sheriff’s hat). Smaller groups would make this at once terrifying and unmissable.

Still, whether you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, on the hunt for things to do or simply trying to scare off that girl you’ve been seeing for too long, this exhilarating 70-minute performance will make you feel a world away from the Nandos next door.

Generation of Z runs until 5 July; generationofz.com

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