So legendary were the gory, blood-spattered productions of Paris’s Theatre du Grand-Guignol at the end of the 19th century, the name itself became shorthand for horror. Simon Stokes’ revival of Carl Grose’s affectionate pastiche leads us backstage - but for the most part is neither chillingly grisly nor camply comic enough to really thrill.
The action shifts between the Grand-Guignol’s shlock-horror playlets, all escaped lunatics and vengeful corpses, and the company stewing behind the scenes. Playwright Andre De Lorde (played with boyish buoyancy by Jonathan Broadbent) struggles with his demons, with the help of a nervous psychiatrist, while the rest of the thesps ponder the identity of ‘the monster of Montmartre’, a gruesome serial killer on the loose...
Grand Guignol sets up much metatheatrical japery, but doesn’t always follow even it's own twisted, play-within-a-play logic. At two hours, it too often it feels like an overextended skit, but lacks sketch comedy's madcap pace - take a cleaver to a few scenes of deadening telling-not-showing, and it could be done in half the time with double the delirium. There are plenty of good comic turns here - Robert Portal’s deadpan luvvie a particular highlight - but the deliberately hammy delivery, putting everything in parodic quotation marks, wears thin as squirtable stage-blood.
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