Grand Guignol at Southwark Playhouse

Thursday 30th October 2014 

Sometimes I quite enjoy sitting in a theatre when I have no notion of the up-coming premise, plot or production. All I knew about Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse’s latest arrival from Theatre Royal Plymouth was that there might be a screaming woman, and plenty of blood (you’ll see why from this production image). 

Grand Guignol's grusome production image

Answers began to unravel in the first five minutes when it became apparent this was a tongue-pulled-right-out-out-of-cheek(!) exploration of the legendary Parisian Theatre du Grand-Guignol - otherwise known as ‘Theatre of Horror’. Raising an eyebrow through the hammy opening lines, I relaxed a little as soon as I felt certain the production was in fact a black comedy, with intent to entertain us through grisly means. 

What ensued was a blood-filled, witty, gut-busting comment on horror as an art form. Why do we create and/or watch it? How does horror affect the psyche or the psyche affect the way we engage with horror? Does life imitate art or art imitate life? I took to engaging with these questions easily -  as a teenager, I would draw the curtains and watch the Thriller video, thinking I was witnessing some dark arts, or peep through squinted eyes at The Shining when everyone else had gone to bed, then wonder why I couldn’t sleep. I find horror compelling, if uncomfortable to watch.

Despite stirring up plenty of thoughts about the relationship between art and horror, Grand Guignol is a production that never takes itself too seriously, despite a slick and clever collection of set, costumes and special FX. The actors did a grand job of keeping us engaged, shocked and amused in equal measure, and showed great tenacity in portraying multiple characters in multiple stage deaths. 

As blood oozed out of cracks in the walls on a stage brimming with calamity, we giggled, gasped and in some cases wiped away stage blood from our brows. I left feeling almost whisked, dizzy from blood and high quality acting and most of all entertained. 

The show has arrived at the Southwark Playhouse in perfect time for Halloween, for those keen to seek their thrills in a theatre but would be worth a visit if you fancy a lurid laugh between now and Saturday 22nd November. Visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call 020 7407 0234 for tickets. 

Emily

Ticket courtesy of Official Theatre. Check them out at www.officialtheatre.com/fringe/