Review – Revenge of the Grand Guignol – London Horror Festival at Courtyard Theatre

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Some two months ago, a friend coming to visit from New York said she wanted to see some scary theater while she was in town (what with it being Halloween and all), and she thought she’d found just the ticket: Revenge of the Grand Guignol, part of the London Horror Festival. Given my positive experience with the “Theatre of Horror” at the Southwark Playhouse two years back and my longstanding love affair with Seattle’s Open Circle Theater’s annual Lovecraft Halloween show, I was all up for this, and fortunately the people running the festival were kind enough to sport me comps for the evening.

The night consisted of four shows: “The Laboratory of Hallucinations” (an update of an original Guignol show by de Lorde and Bauche), “As Ye Sow” (which I think is an original play, by Stewart Pringle, one of the directors of the show), “Hero” (by T.S. Richards, the other director, credited as inspired by “Au Telephone” by de Lorde), and “The Blind Women” (by Pringle, inspired by “Atelier d’aveugles” – Workshop of the Blind – by Descaves). The first show made me worried about the rest of the evening – the acting was ham-fisted and like a very bad B movie – but when they stopped with the plot and got on with the horror, I found myself on the edge of my seat. Oddly despite the theme – let’s say that surgery was involved – there was actually very little blood. This held true for all of the evening, despite about 6 deaths through a variety of means (strangling, hammer, drill, two knives, and possibly a saw). This is NOT what they promised in the press release, but to be honest I found it a relief.

The first show was followed almost immediately by “As ye Sow,” which I approached with caution but found to be the strongest of the night, ultimately as satisfying as Lucy Kirkwood’s “Psychogeography.” The story is about a man in a nursing home, and the thing that I found made it so satisfying is that all of the little things that just didn’t quite seem to be going right seemed to be just as likely to be his mind playing tricks on hinm as anything else. I was reminded of how the ultimate horror in the new, Lovecraftian world, is not of the devil taking your soul; it’s of losing your mind. And on both levels, “As Ye Sow” had all of the ingredients of succes. To top it off, it made me jump two feet straight up. Good job!

After an interval that practially demanded a double straight up, we came back for “Hero.” This play managed to do something I really love to see on stage – incorporating the technologies that are driving our interactions with each other these days (i.e. cellphones, IM, text messaging, Facebook, Skype, Twitter) and turn it into something that not just wound its way into the plot, but was used creatively to express communication happening in a non-play-standard way. To make it even more fun, it had a VERY dodgy sex scene that had me REALLY wondering what some of the stuff that came out of (insert location here) was meant for – and it built the tension remarkably. While I had a bit of a problem with … well, best not to share any details, but something was too fast. However, the ending was TOTALLY satisfying, not to mention I got a lot of laughs watching the lead actor continue to smoke as he helped rearrange the set.

The final play was “Workshop of the Blind,” and I was grateful for the seriously overdone makeup that helped me keep the fourth wall in place, because this was a real horror play, with mental abuse, torture, death of innocents, and just everything awful you could imagine not involving cannibalism. It built tension tremendously and, while the acting of the three blind women was (again) OTT, I found it served to enhance the mood of ultra-reality – sort of like the Bela Lugosi Dracula. I was cringing a bit in my seat at the end, but, overall, I couldn’t help but feel that in everyway I got what I came for, as the evening had me scared, horrified, and, ultimately, feeling very much glad to be alive as I walked out into the night. Overall, I’d say this was an evening of terror theater well worth seeing.

(This review is for a perfomance that took place on November 1st, 2011. Running time was 2:10 including interval. It continues through November 27th.)

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4 Responses to “Review – Revenge of the Grand Guignol – London Horror Festival at Courtyard Theatre”

  1. Tubz Says:

    Really enjoyed the blog. Q: what dates are the horror show on for?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      First time I skip including the dates in months and you caught me out right away! It’s on through November 27th.

  2. Mini-review – Grand Guignol “Screams of Terror” – Exeter Alternative Theate at London Horror Festival | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] some interesting thoughts on the common threads of human motivations. Grand Guignol can be about mad scientists working in laboratories or the ghosts of serial killers, but what’s really terrifying is how the behavior of normal […]

  3. Review – Las Maravillas: the Lost Souls of Mictlan – The Dreamery at Rosemary Branch Theater | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] most horrifying theatrical experiences I have had in years. Not frightening: tops for that is still Stewart Pringle’s “As Ye Sow”, but horrifying as in horrible, a la Fram or the monstrous 4:48 Psychosis Fourth Monkey put on some […]

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