runs until 22 November
directed by Simon Stokes
If you’re looking for Hallowe’en horror on the stage this weekend you could do far worse than Carl Grose’s Grand Guignol, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse after premièring at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 2009. Set in the Parisian theatre of the same name that inspired a whole culture of slasher and splatter films and shows, the play is a gore-fest with hilarious farce, wink-nudge comedy and bizarre plot twists to appeal to a wide range of theatregoers.
While there is plenty of blood, limbs and innards tossed around the stage – eye-gouging, decapitation, disembowelment and strangulation are just a few of the acts of violence that feature – there is a knowing sense of theatricality that imbues the whole show, which makes the gore comedic rather than plain disgusting. The shows opens with an example of how meta it’s all going to be as, having thought we were watching the play proper (and rather ridiculous it seemed, too), we are introduced to the first play-within-a-play device: actors acting at being actors, if you will. Humour therefore comes not just in the gratuitous amount of stage blood, but also in the constant references to the theatre itself. While director Max Maurey (Andy Williams) at one point mutters frustratedly “f**king actors”, the critics don’t escape writer Carl Grose’s witty pen either: “He’s not a man, he’s a theatre critic”, it is said of one potential victim.
Fresh from his wildly successful turn in My Night With Reg at the Donmar Warehouse, Jonathan Broadbent reprises his role from the original Plymouth production as the Grand Guignol’s playwright Andre De Lorde with disarming charm and breeziness, as he churns out horror after horror. He is complemented by Matthew Pearson as the nervous but intrigued Dr Binet, a psychiatrist who comes to study De Lorde’s mentality and inspiration and ends up a collaborator on the plays. However, the show is really stolen by the gloriously hammy performances of Robert Portal and Emily Raymond as Paulais and Maxa, the principal players of the Grand Guignol. Raymond’s depiction of Maxa in particular is a delight: based on her real-life counterpart, “the most assassinated woman in the world”, she is a wonderfully histrionic figure with a tendency to refer to herself in the third person. These two performers eke every possible laugh from the script whilst remaining deadpan and deadly serious (yes, that’s a pun – there may be more) throughout.
a healthy dose of farce with a dollop of wit and a splattering of gory gags
There are a few moments when I did feel the script just went a little far: the regular appearance of Edgar Allen Poe’s spirit has a pantomime-ish quality that doesn’t live up to the satirical bent of the rest of the production, and certainly does add much of merit, and the final scene is stretched out just sightly beyond its potential. However, with a plot full of twists and turns to make your head spin – including a serial killer on the loose, a less than satisfied critic and a haunted playwright – Grand Guignol provides a healthy dose of farce with a dollop of wit and a splattering of gory gags. All in all, bloody good fun (there it is) and an ideal Hallowe’en treat.