Jake Anthony; photo by Andy Thompson

The Zombie Syndrome: On Death Island is a playful, charming romp of horror that makes one relive those gleeful moments of childhood make-believe. A different take on The Virtual Stage’s 2012 hit by the same name, the 90-minute show is a site specific, audience led adventure in a plague-ridden world. There’s a mad man withholding the cure for the dreaded zombie virus, and he needs to be stopped. That’s where we come in.

Much of the show’s success comes from its continued surprises, so I won’t spoil this with a step-by-step account of events. It’s enough to know our own quest began with an email from Sgt. Benjamin Allan describing where the mission starts (you can probably guess from “Death Island”) and a secret passphrase to get us into the official HQ. Whispering “The blue elephant dances at eight” with a knowing wink was just beginning the fun.

Once inside, we meet with our cadet teammates – 15 in total – and are each given a specific role to play within the team: navigator, doctor, negotiator to name a few. With that, we’re off: roaming the streets with flashlights, walkie-talkies and a few other army essentials, working together to save the world. We follow clues, trap zombies, and escape near death.

Adam Weidl; photo by Tim Matheson
[Adam Weidl; photo by Tim Matheson]

The make-up and costuming for zombies, army officials and ‘civilians’ is superb, and each cast member takes to their role with aplomb – and a tongue firmly in cheek. It’s the technical details and route design that are most impressive, however. QR codes around the route link to clues and musical accompaniments (just to add to the eerie), played through speakers carried in the audio technician’s backpack. We never see another group, despite 5 being booked each evening. When our team misses a clue or opportunity, the actors subtly direct us to ensure we don’t miss any of the experience.

The team structure is inspired, and where much of the production’s strength comes from. The rise in popularity of zombie and apocalypse stories comes, in part, from our hidden desires to be the hero survivors, the next stage of human life. We watch Walking Dead or read World War Z with a curiosity about ourselves in such abominable situations. Would we survive? What would our strengths be in a group? Who are we in the face of destruction?

In The Zombie Syndrome, adventure is heightened with the camaraderie of working together. The Virtual Stage’s careful consideration of group dynamics means everyone has a part in the story. This isn’t just for the alphas. There’s joy in feeling playful and unbridled with strangers, in discovering who you are in a group dynamic. We egg each other on and give high fives, calling to each other to keep up when we feel urgency to reach the next clue.

There are a number of different endings to the work, based on each team’s collective decisions, and ours felt sudden and unexpected. A few members of the group felt we had been shortchanged a fitting climax and conclusion – especially after all our world-saving hard work. That’s small criticism for an overall excellent production. And it didn’t stop our team from standing outside the final location in a huddle, putting our hands in the center, and cheering our team name into the sky.

The Virtual Stage are a talented lot. Go see this show: you will feel young and charmed, delighted to have experienced the creativity of adventure time.

The Zombie Syndrome: Death Island continues through November 3. Tickets are available online aand start at $25.

About Our Contributor Zoe Grams

Zoe Grams

Scottish-born Zoe Grams is Principal at ZG Communications and has spent much of her life in theatres and bookstores. Her work has appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Tyee, Back of the Book, GUM and Skinny Mag. Zoe's lifelong passions include the arts and exploring new cities.

1 Comment

  • Pingback by The Zombie Syndrome: On Death Island | andythompson.ca — October 18, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    […] “Much of the show’s success comes from its continued surprises. The technical details and route design are most impressive. Each cast member takes to their role with aplomb. Go see this show: you will feel young and charmed, delighted to have experienced the creativity of adventure time.” – VancouverScape […]

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