Having originated in Paris in the early twentieth century, the Grand Guignol specialised in terrifying audiences with tales of mad scientists, deranged killers and violent deaths, and this Halloween the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s production has dragged it’s blood soaked set to the Southwark Playhouse.
Following the actors, playwright and friendly psychiatrist who created this unique style of theatre, Carl Grose’s play interweaves traditional Grand Guignol plays with the exploration of the playwright Andre De Lord’s psyche and backstage antics. Although it is admiral to attempt to bring an art form that died out in the 1960s back to life, Grose has set himself an impossible task as modern audiences will never experience the same terror audiences of the 1900s experienced because of the rise in horror films and graphic news broadcasts. Similarly, the show lacks definition and so falls somewhere between a historical re-enactment, spoof and gorefest.
That’s not to say there aren’t some thoroughly enjoyable moments. There are some fantastically meta scenes where actors, stagehands and even *shudder* critics are sent up with hilarious panache and Robert Portal’s portrayal of a thespian is pure theatrical delight. Following suit, Emily Raymond gives a marvellously camp performance as the queen of scream, Maxa, and heaven forbid she should ever get a sore throat before curtain up.
Alex Doidge-Green must have had an absolute field day when designing the set as his clever use of space and delightfully ghoulish set have a certainly nod to the realisation that this show is a play, depicting a play. It is even Doidge-Green’s clever use of an overhead lighting unit that induces fear, not the action on stage.
It is a shame that The Grand Guignol lacked direction and focus as it had all the elements to be either an interesting historical revival or a hilarious ‘Carry On Guignol’ style romp, but as it is the show turns into a jack of all trades. Having said that, given the choice between paying £15 for the latest slasher film or The Grand Guignol, I’d choose a little spot of theatrical blood any day.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
The Grand Guignol is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 22 November 2014.