THE zombies are all around. The soldiers are doing their best to fight them off and the scientists are working hard on a solution behind their protective shield. Now all it needs is an audience.
Edinburgh will become Deadinburgh next month as part of a new theatrical production that shows the capital in the grip of a zombie invasion of the type portrayed in spine-chilling horror films such as 28 Days Later.
The zombies and the soldiers will be actors. The scientists will be real-life experts in dealing with life-threatening diseases who try to devise a way out for the last survivors – played by the paying audience members.
Many of the scientists have already helped in the research and development of the production, which will run for four days in the labyrinth-like environment of the city’s former vet school – converted into the arts venue Summer-hall 18 months ago.
Each night, around 200 audience members will be asked to imagine themselves as the final survivors of a mystery epidemic, dubbed “Lazarus”, which has left the city effectively cut off from the rest of the UK.
And after being led around the 100-year-old complex for briefings on the scale of the crisis, at the end of the performance they will have two stark choices: whether to attempt to find a cure for the outbreak and treat the infected masses, or sanction the destruction of the city.
Experts in epidemiology and biomedical science will be among those mingling with professional actors playing the infected hordes and under-siege soldiers from the last remnants of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Among the institutions taking part are Edinburgh University’s Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology and its pioneering Roslin Institute, Heriot-Watt University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University’s School of Healthcare Science, and the Glasgow-based Centre for Eating Disorders.
The show has been put together by the London-based Las Theatre company – which staged a Victorian-themed science show in the Old Vic Tunnels beneath Waterloo station last year – in collaboration with an Edinburgh-based digital design agency, The Gate.
A website for the zombie show – which went live last night – features mock warnings from the military about a “bizarre, apocalyptic epidemic” raging through the city, as well as details of the experts who have been assembled at the safe-house. Video messages targeted at the “survivors” have also been filmed to help promote the show.
Director Barra Collins said: “The whole premise of Deadinburgh is to try to create a piece of science fiction in its purest form.
“It was really Edinburgh’s history of scientific research that drew us to stage the show there and Summerhall just seemed like the perfect venue when we came up to see it because until recently it was home to the vet school.
“The idea is that the rest of Edinburgh is completely over-run by zombies and this is the only building that has been isolated from them. As soon as the audience arrive there they will be swept up in the whole experience.
“They will be divided up into different groups and taken around the building by soldiers to meet the experts.
“We will have around 20 of them in total, and another 20 professional actors playing the soldiers and zombies that the audience will encounter in the building.”
Scientist Lewis Hou, who works at the Edinburgh University-funded Clinical Research Imaging Centre, will be taking the audience through the impact of various brain disorders as well as behavioural changes caused by conditions such as rabies.
He said: “I think it’s the opportunity to work on something with all these other scientists that makes this project really interesting.
“The audience will get the chance to discuss all kinds of different moral and ethical issues and the idea is that the world is waiting for them to give an answer on how to deal with the outbreak.”
Make-up artist Sarah McCracken will be working with the medical experts to create the zombie-like effects. She said: “Normally I’m working with projects looking at the impact of knife crime or car crashes, so it’s definitely a bit different.”
Edinburgh City Council has a major incident plan in place for how to handle a full-scale emergency, although there is nothing specific for the kind of outbreak which will be played out in Deadinburgh.
Council leader Andrew Burns said: “It’s something that we hope will never need to be used, but the council has comprehensive plans in place to evacuate Edinburgh in the unlikely event of a major emergency – which would presumably include a zombie invasion!
“I wish the unaffected few the best of luck in their quest to save the world.”
Deadinburgh runs at Summerhall from 18-21 April.