Theatre Review: Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse

Grand Guignol at the Southwark Playhouse

Grand Guignol at the Southwark Playhouse

The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, Paris opened in 1903 with an aim to scare the living daylights out of an unsuspecting audience. Parisians lapped up the fake-blood gore-fest and the theatre was a huge success until World War II when the rise of more sophisticated celluloid horror forced the theatre to shut its blood-stained doors for the last time in 1967.

The Grand Guignol is another production from the Theatre Royal Plymouth stable with the company’s director Simon Stokes at the helm for its reprisal at the Southwark Playhouse. Set in 1903 it’s a comedy-horror lite (on horror that is, there are plenty of laughs) and tells the behind the scenes story where the lines between the dramatic and reality become very blurred.The Grand Guignol is the story of what went on off-stage, or rather playwright Carl Grose’s version whose script cleverly weaves the scenes from the original plays with his own camp imagings and the result is a brilliantly crafted, perfectly pitched piece of faux-horror.

André de Lorde, the Grand Guignol’s ‘Prince of Terror’ played by the likeable Jonathan Broadbent has been ordered by the theatre’s director, Max Maurey to crank up the gore and horror, demanding more fainters and theatre flee-ers. One of the first members of the audience to pass out from fright is psychiatrist Dr Alfred Binet (a convincingly nervy Matthew Pearson) who becomes fascinated by de Lorde’s compulsion to terrorise and persuades the playwright to be interviewed. In exchange for his confessions, de Lorde makes Binet spill his own childhood terrors and these regular conversations unleash de Lorde’s demon, both creatively and psychologically. As a consequence his plays, brought to life by the theatre’s leading actors, Maxa (‘the world’s most assassinated woman’) and Paulais – respectively played with absolute relish by Emily Raymond and Robert Portal – have theatre goers queuing round the block.

But the terror isn’t confined to the stage, prowling the streets outside the theatre is the Monster of Montmartre and things backstage are about to get a lot more realistic than even prop-maestro, stage manager Ratineau (Paul Chequer) could conjure up.

Grose’s Grand Guignol  is a gag-heavy, deliciously camp slice of kitsch horror that will have you giggly rather than gagging. There are some fantastic one-liners (including plenty of  jokes at theatre critics’ expense, which on press night went down very well) and wonderfully hammy acting that make it a Halloween treat.

For tickets and more information click here

by Suzanne Elliott 

With thanks to Official Theatre London.

Theatre Review: Let The Right One In, Apollo Theatre

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Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli

Let The Right One In, the West End transfer of the Royal Court production, steps into fill the empty stage left by the retreating Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime following the partial collapse of the ceiling at the Apollo Theatre last December.

Despite their ostensibly very different subject matters and storylines (vampires and Scandinavian dark-doings versus a teenage boy with learning difficulties playing Poirot) the two shows share themes of adolescence loneliness and alienation.

Let The Right One In, an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish horror novel (he also wrote the screenplay to the 2008 film) by BAFTA-award winning Jack Thorne, is a vampire story that’s more steeped in Dracula than Twilight. But for all its gore, and a higher body count than King Lear, Let The Right One In is a rather sweet tale of two outsiders finding solace in each other.

For this production, the story moves from the frozen suburbs of a Swedish town to the equally bleak Scottish Highlands in mid-winter, the set of silver birches glowing ghost-like on the perpetually low-lit stage. The deceptively simple set design later reveals itself to be far cleverer than it looks when a modest looking climbing frame becomes the focus of an impressive piece of coup de théâtre.

Oskar (the characters, slightly oddly, keep their Scandinavian names), is a bullied boy who can’t find peace at home with his often-drunk, often angry mother. Not only is he vivaciously picked on, there’s now a murderer on the loose in the woods, hanging his victims from trees like pigs and draining their blood (incidentally, this is the third production I’ve seen this year where an actor strung up by their legs, it’s not a good time for actors with a fear of inversions).

It’s in the now out-of-bounds woods that Oskar meets Eli, a Willo The Wisp like vampire whose otherness to Oskar is most apparent in her not knowing what a Rubik’s Cube is. He lends her his to play with and she becomes his guardian angel.

For all its endearing qualities, there’s a coldness to this production that’s not just the smattering of fake snow on the stage. The dialogue and the staging are studied and remote, its artificiality exaggerated by the scene-dividing dancing that bleeds into ‘over-done-the-E-at-a-rave-in-a-forest-in-1989’ style moves. I’m a little squeamish about self-conscious theatrics (and blood, fake or real) so the tree-hugging dances made me a little queasy, almost more than the over enthusiastic, bloody necking.

But the very young leads are great. Martin Quinn as Oskar is brilliant and inhabits the teenager with great conviction – he’s funny, cheeky, sensitive and confused. Rebecca Benson as the slight Eli who refuses to acknowledge who – or what – she really is, is small but mighty, her sprite-like build betraying her strong presence.

This slightly disjointed production is aided by Ólafur Arnalds sweeping atmospheric soundtrack that gives the play a filmic quality and helps keep the production lifted when it starts to sag.

While this may not have as much bite as the eerie Swedish film it’s adapted from, it’s an imaginative production that’s rather charming in its bloodsoaked portrayal of the perils of adolescence – with or without fangs.

by Suzanne Elliott

For tickets and more information visit www.royalcourttheatre.com.