Our zombies have to go to zombie school, where we teach them how to chase and perform,” says Bristol-based writer and director James Wheale, “Scaring little old ladies on their way to the shop is a definite no-no.”
On four dates in May (23, 24, 30 and 31 May) the 2.8 Hours Later experience is returning to Edinburgh for the second year, before its third visit to Glasgow on 15, 16, 22 and 23 August.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is a cross-city chase, created by games company SlingShot. Think of it as a live film or computer game, with you and the other participants, all of whom must be over 18, as the heroes. Actors and volunteers play police officers, the living dead, government officials and other characters who help drive the narrative, which spans a couple of hours.
The exact location point for the game isn’t revealed until a week before the event, but starting in the “asylum”, participants are given a mission and a map to help them find the first checkpoint, where they unlock the information required to find the next co-ordinate, and so on.
As Wheale, 25, explains, “The city becomes a living, breathing prop.”
The aim is to make it back to the asylum eventually, uninfected and with all tasks complete.
This year’s storyline – Survival – is a sequel to 2013’s tale, Asylum, which, in Edinburgh, involved a narrative that took place in the city centre, then moved to Leith.
“Our players started as illegal immigrants,” says Wheale. “They were given leave to find their paperwork, and, if they couldn’t, they were placed in quarantine, which involved being dumped on the other side of the fence. Here, they learnt of a resistance movement called Asylum – in the badlands outside the city limits. The players escaped to this place, where this year’s game starts.”
You don’t have to have taken part in the prequel to understand what’s going on in Survival, although, there are sure to be a few attendees who are veterans. After all, as Wheale says, “Scots are zombie mad” – especially Glaswegians.
“All the Glasgow guys come to Edinburgh and London to play the game, they have a real passion,” he explains. “Some of them played zombies in World War Z when it was shot in Glasgow. They gave us a tour and showed us the locations.”
It’s often assumed most taking part would be young males, but according to Wheale, “There are slightly more women than men.
“And the age range is vast. We’ve had three generations of one family play before, which kind of contributes to the strangeness.”
The players all wear armbands, so the organisers can identify them. This also comes in handy should rogue civilians get carried away and gatecrash proceedings.
“It’s rare, but if that happens, our stage managers take them aside and explain what’s happening,” Wheale says. “Most of the time people just want to film it on their phones and are anything from completely bemused to thrilled when the zombies appear.”
Wheale won’t say exactly how many walking dead there will be. However, he does reveal that there were 1,600 applications for their advertised vacancies in Cardiff, and only slightly less in other locations.
Rather than biting, the zombies stamp players with UV ink and, thus, “mark them with the infection” so that, at the end of the event, those who’ve been caught will become undead, courtesy of one of SlingShot’s make-up artists.
Though the game is strictly non-contact, we imagine it’s still terrifying to come close to one of these actors, dripping in faux gore.
“We’ve had people too frightened to continue and they’ve just gone to the disco that we have at the end of the event,” says Wheale. “We’ll go out of our way to help but, at the same time, some people just need a gentle push. It’s like when you lose your resolve in the queue to the rollercoaster.”
Except it’s worse than the Big Dipper, because they’ve all been to zombie school.
“Type ones are slow and type twos are the 28 Days Later-style running and chasing kind,” says Wheale. “They’re all unique characters with their own noise, because you don’t want hundreds of zombies who sound exactly the same. Each has a horrible individual voice that penetrates the night sky.”
Tickets from £38 per person, www.2.8hourslater.com