Zombies and Shakespeare Collide in VIU Theatre Department's Spring Play

VIU cast members rehearse a scene for the upcoming show William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead, which opens March 5. Eliza Gardiner Photo

March 3, 2020 - 10:30am

Theatre Department presents William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead as its spring production, which opens March 5.

To be, or not to be … a zombie?

Zombies shuffle through the streets of medieval London as historical characters deal with their own human schemes and woes while trying to avoid becoming one of the undead during the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Theatre Department’s production of William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead: The True and Accurate Account of the 1599 Zombie Plague, written by John Heimbuch.

Horror and history collide in this play set during the Elizabethan era at the Globe Theatre, just after the curtain comes down on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s inaugural performance of Henry V. It features characters based on historical figures such as Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, William Kempe, John Dee and Queen Elizabeth I.

“All the characters are very different from each other and they’re all very strange. They have quirks, except Shakespeare, which is strange because he’s the main character,” says Jenna Morgan, who plays John Dee, a mathematician and astrologer. “Shakespeare interacts with all these people all while the zombie apocalypse is going on. There’s something for everybody with this Shakespeare horror-comedy.”

Morgan is having fun playing Dee, a male character.

“He’s very flustered all the time and nervous and freaking out. He tends to talk a lot and goes on tangents,” she says. “It’s bad timing because there is a zombie apocalypse going on outside and he is just talking about math and magic.”

Morgan says the zombies add a lot of tension and action to the play, which has comedic aspects but also blood and gore.

“If you love Shakespeare and you love the horror culture that zombies have popularized  then this show is definitely worth a watch,” adds Christopher Carter, who plays William Kempe in the production.

Carter drew on similarities between himself and Kempe to create his character.

“He kind of reminds me of me in real life. I also do things my own way in a different form. We both have this same kind of energy and drive in what we do,” says Carter. “We just question, we question everything.”

It’s a nice blend of genres, says Willem Roelants, who plays William Shakespeare.

“I really like this play because it’s fun, it’s emotional and it’s full of action and subtlety. It’s not some political message. It’s just fun,” says Roelants. “It seems like a big experiment where if you took all these characters and put them in a room together what would happen and then you add zombies.”

Carter says the cast and crew have been working hard over the past few months building sets and perfecting the zombie makeup, so audience members are in for a visual treat. 

“It is a fast-moving script with scholarly nods to Shakespeare’s writing, inside jokes about the Elizabethan era, fight choreography, gnashing of teeth and zombies strutting their stuff upon the stage,” says Eliza Gardiner, chair of VIU’s Theatre Department.

VIU’s production of William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead runs March 5-7 and 12-14 at 7:30 pm at VIU’s Malaspina Theatre. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students and are available on Eventbrite or at the door. March 4 is a special pay what you can preview night, which also starts 7:30 pm. Tickets are only available at the door for that performance. On March 12 audience members are encouraged to dress up as zombies from any era, with attendees in costumes paying only $5 at the door. 



Rachel Stern, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6560 l  C: 250.618.0373 l E: Rachel.Stern@viu.ca | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Malaspina Theatre | Theatre | In the Community