Grand Guignol by Carl Grose, directed by Simon Stokes is a Theatre Royal Plymouth production currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. This is perfect timing for Halloween and needs to be taken advantage of immediately.
From 1897 to 1962 the Theatre du Grand-Guignol in Paris was renowned for staging plays of such extreme violence, madness and blood-shed it became known as the ‘Theatre of Horror’. The extreme nature of these plays resulted in a doctor being employed by the theatre. His job was to attend to the audience members that fainted each night. So popular and influential was the work it has inspired future generations and is now echoed in the blood-filled movies that dominate the film industry. Grose and Stokes have been extremely respectful to the genre, delivering a terrifyingly entertaining play, packed full of comedy gold, blood and gore and impressive visual effects. The writing is absolute genius, Grose has written a script that captures the essence of the genre whilst being creative and original and the balance of comedy and horror is perfect, making it appealing to a range of audiences.
Jonathan Broadbent plays Andre De Lorde, the tortured and tormented resident playwright of the Grand Guignol, as well as other minor roles. In the play De Lorde works closely with Dr Alfred Binet, played by Matthew Pearson, a psychiatrist of rather a nervous disposition. Binet has a deep rooted interest in De Lorde’s psyche and the inspiration and motives behind his dark writing, whilst De Lorde is interested in Binet’s professional insight into the human mind. They work closely together for their own personal gain, both achieving something they need in their professional lives. The beauty of the play is that the audience are invited into several different worlds, the mind and creative genius of De Lorde, snippets of a selection of his plays, an insight into the actors and the characters they play as well their off-stage antics. You are also given a peek into society at the time, there are many references made to the era in which the play is set and the attitudes of certain people towards the Grand Guignol.
The cast are absolutely extraordinary, their energy, focus, precision and complicit nature are the driving force behind the show and truly bring the intelligent writing to life. Each individual performance from every actor stands out as unique. There are no blurred lines with the characters at all. With the exception of Matthew Pearson, who only plays Dr Binet, each actor plays a number of characters throughout the entire performance, switching back and forth.
Emily Raymond plays a range of characters throughout the play. Her main character is the leading lady of the Grand Guignol, Paula Maxa. Maxa is known as the ‘world’s most assassinated woman’, a reputation she earned from the amount of deaths she staged during her career. Raymond is an absolute delight to watch and listen to, her use of physicality and her strong vocal command and manipulation demand attention. Her seamless transition from one character to another is outstanding and the transformation is even more impressive. The entire cast create an indescribable atmosphere on the stage and in the theatre, not the easiest tasks but they manage it exceedingly well.
The visual effects are impressive and shocking at the same time, the amount of blood that is spilt is truly remarkable so be warned if you have an aversion to blood. The visual effects are are so slick and so well-timed it gives them a realistic quality, making it virtually impossible to not turn away at certain points. Without going into too much detail and ruining the element of surprise, you may need a strong stomach to watch or at least a strong drink.
All the elements of this production, the writing, direction, acting and special effects all go towards make it a truly sensational piece of theatre.
Review by Haydn James
1903, in the back streets of Monmartre, the Theatre du Grand Guignol opens its doors to an unsuspecting public. The plays performed, rife with madness and murders, are sold out every night. A psychiatrist obsessed with the playwright’s gruesome dramas ingratiates his way into the company. But when he starts to unpick the author’s mind, the boundaries between theatre and truth begin to blur…
Revelling in this lost theatrical form, Carl Grose’s wild play works fast and loose with convention. Grand Guignol was a theatre movement of thrill, shock and horror and the play centres on the original Parisian theatre company and its members. Grand Guignol is strange, funny, gothic and philosophical – a black comedy, a psychological thriller and an unrepentant splatter-fest guaranteed to keep you guessing (and wincing) to the very last horror show.
A revival of Theatre Royal Plymouth’s enormously successful original production
23rd October to 22nd November 2014
Wednesday 29th October 2014