Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse – Review

Grand-Guignol-web-circle2Grand Guignol

Writer: Carl Grose

Director: Simon Stokes

Venue: Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

So, to set the scene………what fun. What fun!! Grand Guignol is a play based around the exploits of the real and infamous Theatre du Grand Guignol (literally the Theatre of the Big Puppet), which existed in Paris from 1897 to 1962. The Theatre du Grand Guignol would stage productions which dealt with subjects considered too taboo for mainstream theatre and the most popular of these productions were the ones which flaunted gory scenes of horror.

Writer Carl Grose cleverly populates his cast of characters with real personalities from the history of The Theatre du Grand Guignol, director Max Maurey, actress Paula Maxa (known as “the most assassinated woman in the world” for suffering thousands of staged murders and rapes during her career), principle playwright Andre de Lorde and his psychologist collaborator Alfred Binet. The story even uses some of de Lorde’s real plays as a backdrop to events, such as Le Laboratoire du Hallucinations and Une Crime dans une Maison de Fous.

As for the plot (no spoilers….), the year is 1903 and Paris is gripped by fear over the ongoing brutal exploits of a serial killer known as The Monster of Montmatre. As the horrific murders occur ever closer to the Theatre du Grand Guignol, our oddball cast of characters are not immune to this fear. Blamed by a prominent theatre critic for fuelling the sick mind of the Monster with their gruesome plays, could it be that someone at the Grand Guignol is hiding a deadly secret? After all, what is inspiring the disgusting imagination of playwright Andre de Lorde?

splogoThe production is one big knowing wink, carried off in an air of general hilarity. Grose’s script, coupled with the fun direction of Simon Stokes, results in witty asides to the audience, outrageous and over the top gore sequences and the repetition of the line “it’s only a play, it’s only a play.”
The cast set about their work with camp relish and impressively keep the audience involved throughout the running time (two hours, including intermission).

The Southwark Playhouse itself is a low-key and relaxed venue. There is a well stocked bar/restaurant area, which the audience have to pass through in order to reach the auditorium. Before you come in sight of the stage, though, it is necessary to walk down a dark corridor, lined with lurid posters advertising the delights of the original Grand Guignol. This sets a suitably creepy atmosphere for what is to come.

If you’re in London with a spare evening, you could do a lot worse than pop down. Tickets are £18 or £16 for concessions. But you’ll have to do it before November 22nd, because that, unfortunately is when this current run ends. However, it is a Theatre Royal Plymouth production, so keep and eye on their website for any future news.

Highly recommended – but if you don’t trust my opinion, Grand Guignol has been publicly bigged up by Reece Shearsmith, who knows a thing or two about combining horror and comedy.


Grand Guignol
by Carl Grose
Show Starts 7.30pm Matinee Starts 3pm
Running Time 120 minutes including interval
Price £18 | £16 concessions | All previews £10