Edinburgh Fringe 2019
At the dawning of the zombie apocalypse, one woman fights for survival. Trapped in her home, isolated from the world, her only source of sanity is in creating the most ridiculous horror story ever written. Talented comic and character actor Lily Edwards brings this story to life, creating lots of belly laughs to set against the increasingly desperate situation the heroine finds herself in.
A young woman begins to tell us her life story. We are in the dark (literally and figuratively) as she reveals she is hiding from a zombie in her front garden, her lifelong obsession with consuming classic, trashy and art-house horror movies has at last come in useful for instantly recognising and categorising the threat to life. No running around screaming in an attention drawing panic for our heroine, instead she calmly lists all the reasons why her home is not readily defendable, checks her mum is OK, and settles down to wait out the invasion, reassured by news bulletins that the Government has this massive public health fail under control. Of course they have …
The House of Influenza is the tale within a tale that she writes to pass the time and entertain us by acting out all of its characters. Part spoof Scooby Dooby Doo (if Gladys and co were Millennial Brits who actually consummated relationships), part The Others/any other haunted house movie you have ever seen this whacky tale of four sixth formers attempting to have a post-exam summer break is laugh out loud funny and Lily Edwards is a consummate comedy and character actor.
What lifts Andrew Shire’s clever script from a run of the mill hour of laughs and groans at the dreadful puns is the sudden swerve from pure comedy to a downbeat and very believable story of a woman trapped and alone. The play works because it is a jarring contrast between the spoof knowing horror story which delightfully spotlights all the tropes and the genuinely sad ‘real life’ zombie attack which frames it.
I asked my 14 year old co-reviewer if he thought House of Influenza was a metaphorical exploration of living with depression or chronic anxiety. He reckoned it was just about how one person isolated from social media and friends and family might respond to a zombie suddenly appearing on the front lawn.
We both had one quibble which was the knowing nods and winks at the audience when Edwards breaks character to expose the mechanics of her performance. This is standard fare for productions like this which have developed out of a sketch show format but they do this play a disservice because it isn’t a straight forward comedy. If the company were brave enough to leave out some of the tried and tested routes to laughter, then the audience would have an even more satisfying experience.
House of Influenza is a lot of fun for teenagers upwards. Concerned parents can be reassured that young teens will find the one overt sexual reference either as funny as everyone else or it will go right over their heads. Catch (House of) Influenza while you can.