Writer: Carl Grose
Director: Simon Stokes
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Carl Grose’s Grand Guignol is a play within a play; by a famous playwright or a lunatic; set in Paris or an asylum; played by actors or inmates; or is it? It doesn’t really matter. Enjoy a rollercoaster ride through the macabre world of Grand Guignol and prepare to be shocked, repelled and amused in equal measure.
The Théâtre du Grand-Gignol was a theatre in the Pigalle, Paris – made famous at the turn of last century by its shocking productions of murder and revenge specialising in blood curdling gory detail. Its productions were so horrific that resident doctors were often called upon to treat audiences from shock or fainting. Most infamous were its prolific playwright, André de Lorde; Paul Ratineau, whose technical skills produced such chilling effects; and Paula Maxa who became known as the world’s most assassinated woman, owing to the many times she was murdered on stage.
These three notorious characters form the core of this macabre and mind bending tale. De Lorde (played by Jonathan Broadbent) is struggling for inspiration for his next scirpt. Haunted by his own childhood traumas, and very funny occasional nightmares featuring Edgar Allan Poe (complete with raven), he struggles to keep up the output required to keep the crowds pouring in at the Grand Guignol until he meets Dr Binet. Binet (Matthew Pearson) is a psychiatrist who encourages De Lorde to face his demons and, unwittingly in the process of his therapy, provides gruesome material for more productions.
Reality quickly starts to be merged with on stage drama; recalled memories with actual events; actors with real characters; true stories with scripts for the next play. Soon we are so deep in a story within a story, somewhere deep inside De Lorde’s own tortured psyche, or are we? Carl Grose cleverly intertwines reality with the twisted paths of the traumatised mind. We are never really sure if it is theatre inspiring reality of the other way round and which one we are watching. But it really doesn’t matter.
The ensemble cast each perform a number of rôles. Robert Portal had a particularly funny evening as Paulais, a silver haired, over dramatic actor among others. Emily Raymond played Maxa, dying again and again with great flourish. The cast was completed by Paul Chequer and Andy Williams also providing a number of rôles seamlessly.
The set, by Alex Doidge-Green easily transformed from an asylum institution to back stage at the Grand Guignol very effectively for most of the evening but some of the bigger scene changes behind the red curtains were a little noisy and an unfortunate distraction
This fast paced production by Theatre Royal Plymouth and directed by its artistic director, Simon Stokes, gives us a very entertaining 21st century version of ‘Grand Guignol’ theatre, unrepentantly replete with gore. The teenage audience, in particular, loved it.
Until Saturday 18th October