Living dead in Denmark had to get creative with combat and romance scenes due to COVID-19 regulations | Photos by Ruta Smith

Death Match

Living Dead in Denmark is an action-horror follow-up to Hamlet. A zombified King of Denmark returns from the grave with an undead army to reclaim his throne. The only thing stopping him is Lady MacBeth, Ophelia and Juliet, newly resurrected by Fortinbras. 

“It’s Shakespeare, but it’s completely divergent from Shakespeare,” director Chad Henderson laughed. The play definitely has a nerd-culture edge to it, like Shaun of the Dead meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

The play features some of the hallmarks of playwright Qui Nguyen, who rose to prominence for the nerdy meditation on loss and acceptance She Kills Monsters. Blood and profane language are sometimes thrown around amid martial arts battles, while characters speak in one-liners. But, Living Dead in Denmark had the good grace to throw in Shakespeare … and pop tunes.

Some stories just sell themselves.

“There’s a lot going on in the show,” director Chad Henderson said. “There’s moments of intimacy, there’s moments of combat, there’s moments of zombie attacks.”

Photo by Ruta Smith

The Evil Dead and Stanley Kubrick, alongside loads of zombie media, were the main influences for the latest production, according to Henderson. “If it had a zombie in it, I kind of looked to see,” he said. “It’s been a cinematic inspiration for theater.”

Because of the College’s rules regarding safety, including actors staying 6 feet away from each other on stage, the cast and production team had to get creative with how to handle romantic and close-quarters combat scenes. Henderson said the solutions for these problems were a mixture of practical (longer weapons) and artistic choices. 

“We’ve tapped into the ability to change the style of the staging to where every actor is facing downstage,” he said. “It’s almost like you, the audience, are choosing your own adventure of whose point of view you are in. You just engage with the character you want to at the moment.”

But, since the play takes place during a plague, and the world is still experiencing its own diseased reality, Henderson thinks there are parts of the safety protocols that enhance the experience. “For our purposes, I think the masks totally work because there’s context to give it some weight and makes it more appropriate,” he said.

Photo by Ruta Smith

Living Dead in Denmark, originally published in 2008, precedes Nguyen’s more critically lauded work, like She Kills Monsters. The latter play found a home on stages around the nation thanks in part to its heart and its narrative that partially explores a character’s troubles coming out of the closet. While Living Dead in Denmark may not get as deep as She Kills Monsters, Henderson noticed a big motif of awakening throughout the story.

“Ophelia and her cohorts, Juliet and Lady MacBeth, were brought back into the world, a world that they don’t recognize, and they all have to temper their trust with each other,” he said. “I think it’s strangely relevant right now considering the heated nature of how politics has become in our country, our trust of each other when it comes to public spaces, COVID safety. Everything is new to us.” 

Living Dead in Denmark will be livestreamed through the College of Charleston’s Theatre Department. To purchase tickets, head over to theatre.cofc.edu. For more information, email cofcstages@cofc.edu or call (843) 953-6306.