Grand Guignol at Southwark Playhouse directed by Simon Stokes – Review

Billed as a terrifically gruesome blood-fest, this new comedy written by Carl Grose (of Kneehigh fame) doesn’t quite reach the sublime heights of horror I was expecting.

That being said, this homage to the Parisian theatre of blood, with its theatre in-jokes and digs at the critics; ridiculous bloody special effects and parodic rinsing of horror, was hilarious macabre entertainment. I was in stitches as silly psychiatrists and unsuspecting villains; the screaming lady and troupe of Parisian actors, romped the stage in farcical pursuits. Staged in the Large, which really is still a little space, at Southwark Playhouse this transfer from Theatre Royal Plymouth suited the small-scale intimacy.

Jonathan Broadbent plays Grand Guignol’s messed-up playwright Andre De Lorde, haunted by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (topped off with a raven on his shoulder like an absurd death pirate) never failingly accompanied by green-lit stage smoke. Matthew Pearson, as Dr Binet, an aficionado of the creative mind, unwittingly becomes De Lorde’s accomplice. Together they construct the fanciful slash-fests we see presented on stage, as the play spins into layers of theatrical reality that are never quite unwoven (“it’s only a play”). Maxa “the most assassinated woman in the world”, whose delectable scream punctuates the scenes and over the top dead pan theatrics and hysterics induce laughs aplenty, is played by Emily Raymond. Her deadly commitment to her craft and third person self-reference never failed to amuse.

Perhaps best of all were the metatheatrical gags, audience address and send-ups of slasher film tropes but all in all it had to be these hysterics that captivated. For me, despite its gory silliness, and the first half especially, it was just a little too meandering and plotless to be truly compelling.

Playing until 22 November at Southwark Playhouse.

Thanks to the Southwark Playhouse volunteer stewarding scheme under which capacity I watched the Grand Guignol.

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