Grand Guignol (Plymouth Theatre Royal)

BLOODY good fun!

Theatre Royal Plymouth revives home-grown Carl Grose's gory frolic Grand Guignol – a pacy, tongue-in-cheek (or occasionally in hand) recreation
of the legendary, sordid Parisian horror shows.

From 1897 to 1962, the Theatre du Grand-Guignol developed the art of
one-act shows of violence, sex and terror to such success that the name
entered the English language to describe the genre.

Under the guiding hand of original director Simon Stokes, Theatre Royal
Plymouth's Artistic Director, the ubiquitous cast of six delightfully
(and seamlessly) portray some 30 characters as gruesome plays within a
play unfold – and all the while the sawbones are on stand-by to deal
with the pukers and fainters.

Andy Williams is (mainly) Max Maurey whose
money-making, knitting-mad royalty-captivating project relies entirely
on tortured playwright De Lorde (Jonathan Broadbent – Mozart in Kenneth
Branagh's Magic Flute and who played the part first time round too) to
summon his inspiration (a ghoulish Edgar Allan Poe complete with raven
perched upon a shoulder) and churn out scripts to hopefully scare half
to death an increasingly demanding early 20th century paying audience.

Assisted by lily-livered psychiatrist with a past Dr Binet (Matthew Pearson), the tales are increasingly macabre challenging young
Ratineau (Paul Chequer) to devise blood that not only pools
but also spurts and drips.

Leading luvvies Paulais (Atlantic rower and RSC stalwart Robert Portal)
and the world's most assassinated woman Maxa (Emily Raymond who
originally created the role) ply their melodramatic trade specialising
in hammy mutilations, dramatic insanity and nauseating death. And all
the while a Jack-the-Ripper type is running amok in downtown Montematre
cleansing the streets of the prostitutes, drunk and ungodly, carving his
trademark stars into his victims' eviscerated corpses.

Alex Doidge-Green's simple set of dirty, cracked tiles and stage flats
proves versatile as, frantically switching between on-stage and off,
Grand Guignol lurches hilariously from severed limbs to electric brain
probe as the portrayed horror seeps into the cast's real life
culminating in a frenzied denunciation of whodunnit, unlocking of
twisted minds, a blurring of the real and theatrical, and the
blood-spattered demise of everything and everyone.

Or is it?