Just when you thought it was safe to order a vegan-friendly soy latte, Anno Zombies, written by Bridgette Burton and directed by Natasha Broadstock comes lurching onto the stage. The zombie apocalypse has come to Melbourne, and the seemingly few survivors struggle to cling to the remains of sanity, seeking out familiar routines while holed up in the remains of David Jones.
There’s not-a-hipster Harl (Glenn van Oosterom), who wants to grow vegetables and hopes to “improve the gene-pool”, excitable Lee (Taylor Smith-Morvell), lover of outlandish fashion and Wham. Secluding themselves on the Sixth floor are wealthy elderly couple, Vera (Kelly Nash) and Freddie (Bruce Langdon), whose near delusional clinging to the trappings of their former live mask their inner frailties.
Lee has a habit of naming the undead, noting that they seem to return to what it was before they die, his favourite being The Undude (Matthew Dorning), and it is while engaging in his observations he one day notices Lizzie (Tiffany Davis), a former personal shopper, whose arrival instigates a change among the department store’s inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Ray (Dan Wallis) and Philly (Lauren Bailey) make their way to the city. Ray is a former *chokes* loans-broker, who seems to have come into his element since the end of the world. It’s clear he had his former job as a way of making ends meet and to look after Philly; now the zombie hoards have taken over he can be the manly outdoorsman he’s always dreamed of being. It’s sitting less well with Philly, a former scientist who seems to know more than she lets on, who in Ray’s eyes can become a domestic that he will care and provide for, and who can help rebuild humanity.
There’s plenty of laughs to be had, as the familiarity of the day-to-day is cleverly juxtaposed against the zombie apocalypse; a particular highlight for me was Lee’s adopted pet “Hand”, a literal undead hand, which he treated like a small, skittish puppy. There’s also a lot of heart; everyone has their fare share of difficulties to deal with, lurking beneath the façade of their “character”, leading to complex, emotional development. Without revealing too much, and without him literally saying that much, a lot pins on the character of The Undude (especially for Lee, Lizzie, Vera and Freddie), stumbling across the stage at frequent intervals with his wheelbarrow of bodies. Ray and Philly’s relationship is far more than it first presents, and is all the stronger by the end, and Harl is more than the one-note he seems, struggling with his inner turmoil and often competing beliefs.
Ultimately, Anno Zombies seems to say that sometimes it the rise of the undead to show what makes us really alive.
Anno Zombies is at Chapel off Chapel until September 16 at 8pm Monday to Saturday, 3pm Sunday. $35 Full, $25 Conc., $23 Cheapie Tuesday. Other prices available, click here.