I didn’t know much about Grand Guignol before entering the Southwark Playhouse last night, however after two deliciously dark hours I can now tell you that Grand Guignol is a perfect piece of autumnal theatre; it is simultaneously dark, mysterious, ghoulish and bloody funny!
According to my programme notes, the Grand Guignol was a real Parisian theatre of horror around the late 19th/ early 20th century. In the Theatre du Grand-Guignol, the players performed grisly displays of horror under their most prolific playwright, Andre de Lorde (the “Prince of Terror!) Carl Grose has ingeniously drawn on these historical events in order to generate a gruesome farce, depicting the madness of Andre and his band of theatrical jackals.
It is completely the right decision to present this show as a comedy; the premier sketch of the show was a rip roaring, hum dinger of an opening. Immediately the audience is drawn into a world of insanity, blood, guts and severed tongues! The show works best during these moments of theatrical chaos, generating comic pace and frantic hilarity.
All six actors are masters of gothic performance! Each had their merits, for example Emily Raymond was hilarious as the metatheatrical leading lady and has a shriek that could shatter windows. Paul Chequer was thoroughly entertaining in the opening sequence and continued to entertain as the gruesome props master. Jonathan Broadbent is clearly a huge acting talent and displayed a range of acting styles ranging from enthusiasm, hard graft and downright insanity! Robert Portal was just born for horror with his Victorian looks and deep voice and finally, Matthew Pearson juxtaposed them all with a level of sanity (that of course was eventually brutally stripped away.)
The intimate size of the Southwark Theatre stage helped to heighten the horror already present in Alex Doidge-Green’s designs, which were at times very Antonin Artaud-esque! I specifically loved the use of “lightning” and a rocking ceiling above the audience, which were nice touches indeed.
Whilst I loved the Edgar Allan Poe raven references, the Andre, Poe and the psychologist scenes became a bit tiresome. I much preferred watching the company as a whole construct their ghastly fantasies, which were entertaining and engaging!
Overall I think the tone set in Grand Guignol is just right and those who love a bit of dark humour will very much enjoy this show. Whilst the piece is well timed for Halloween, it is also a good early winter piece of theatre…something to scare audiences on dark nights!
Grand Guignol runs at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 22nd November. I’d definitely recommend booking tickets to see this show (that is if you are able to stomach a bit of fake blood and eye gouging!)