Grand Guignol – Review

Robert Portal & Emily Raymond in Grand Guignol. Photos by Steve Tanner
Robert Portal & Emily Raymond in Grand Guignol. Photos by Steve Tanner

Long before TV and film, before Hammer Horror had assembled its first Frankenstein, or George Romero’s splatter movies brought the dawn of the dead, there existed, in Paris, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol.

This remarkable theatre, in the Bohemian quarter of the Pigalle in Monmartre, staged horror plays of such ferocity and inventiveness that the audience passed out, threw up or were driven half-demented by the gore.

Carl Grose’s wonderfully black, spoof horror homage to the venue is just as inspired.

Grand Guignol opened at the Southwark Playhouse last night and its audience was left shocked, nauseous, stunned – and reeling with laughter.

Theatre Royal Plymouth’s revival offers a bloody good time. It’s a splendid gore-fest that cleverly combines a bold vein of comedy with the guts of a decent horror tale.

I would call it tongue-in-cheek but a tongue was hacked out of a player’s mouth in the opening few seconds. Stomachs are ripped open, heads hacked off..all in the worst possible taste.

Paul Chequer in Grand Guignol. Credit Steve Tanner  (16)

Haunted writer and Prince Of Terror, Andre De Lorde (Jonathan Broadbent), provides the theatre’s plays, each one more horrific than the last.

He seems such a nice, decent chap when interviewed by experimental psychologist, Dr Alfred Binet (Matthew Pearson). The doctor probes Lorde’s past, trying to find out the origins of his warped creativity.

The Guignol’s stars – Paula Maxa, The Queen Of Scream (Emily Raymond) and the beautifully enunciated, though slightly unhinged Paulais (Robert Portal) – are experts in their field.

The grande dame, Maxa is “the world’s most assassinated woman” while Paulais can play a psychopath as easily as a victim.

The theatre’s special effects supervisor Ratineau (Paul Chequer) was also a specialist who could produce a variety of stage bloods to react in different scenarios.

Lorde’s story is intercut with scenes from the Guignol’s horrific splatter plays and ends in true grisly style.

The ensemble cast perform the Grose production with utter seriousness which makes the story even more absurd, surreal, and hysterically funny.

Grand Guignol is a slasher play that sends up and reveres the original French theatre. A great night(mare) of entertainment – just eat before you go.

And remember it’s only a play…

Grand Guignol runs until November 22.

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