Grand Guignol at Southwark Playhouse
Heads flung back with laughter, tears rolling down cheeks and hands gripping the edge of almost every occupied chair in the room, Grand Guignol is a play of extreme measures. Extreme gruesomeness, extreme comedy: you might think, how bizarre, could horror really collaborate with humour? Yes, it can.
Written by Carl Grose Grand Guignol portrays a well-known image of Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Pigalle, Paris 1897 – 1962. The Grand Guignol Theatre became renown for its horrific and terrifying plays full of murder, violence, torture, rape and insanity.
Grand Guignol is a number of plays within a play. As a matter of fact, the audience becomes part of a few of the plays, when the audience are spoken to as though they were the audience of the play that is within a play. Confusing? Well, it can be. The sort of confusion Inception invokes is the sort you’ll find here.
The play ran very smoothly. Even though a few lines were a little off, it might have been part of the play within the play rather than of the original performance. All the characters were on cue and what was amazing was that when the audience were surprised at a character running onto the stage delivering some bad news, so were the actors who were acting as though they were actors. It felt very inclusive.
Besides the confusion as to which level of the play we were in, the audience interaction was great. Sometimes there were speeches, sometimes advice and a few times the theatre became a ride. The ceiling began to rattle and shake above; the lights began to flicker and then, a scream took us right back to the stage. Attention was dragged all over the place, all in between the bouts of laughter.
Melodrama is usually very painful to watch: unless it is done precisely it can be detrimental to a performance. Jonathan Broadbent, Paul Chequer, Matthew Pearson, Robert Portal, Emily Raymond and Andy Williams hit the nail on the head. And all it took was one hit. They were awfully funny, and the script fitted their characters perfectly. It was funny to see the characters come out of character from the play within the play. The men were walking around in dresses and their wigs splayed across the floor. Imagine, Central London outside a club on a Saturday night and it’s 1897. The only woman in the play was walking around with no eyes, need we say more?
Evidently this is a play that you could grow to love, even with all its baggage – the terror and horror. The horror is realistic and the oddities perfect. In great time for the Halloween holidays, this is one to watch.
Grand Guignol is on at Southwark Playhouse until 22nd November 2014, for further information or to book visit here.