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Grand Guignol (Plymouth Theatre Royal)

BLOODY good fun!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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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?