Turned 22 last week, *I don’t know about you, but I’m feelinggggg twenty twooooo*. Didn’t make any plans as I am getting pretty anti-social as I get into my old age, but after hearing some great things about this show, booked tickets to see The Grinning Man, currently showing at the Trafalgar Studios.
Based on the novel ‘The Man who Laughs’ by Victor Hugo, this new musical follows Grinpayne, a young man with a facial disfigurement from a traumatic event during childhood and his quest to find the truth of his past. Set in the city of Lonnn’Donn, miserable under the rule of King Clarence and his three unwieldy children, we watch transfixed as Grinpayne and his girlfriend/kind of sister Dea navigate betrayal, love and mystery to discover what lies behind his bloody smile and her fatherless childhood. Main plot aside we also have a hearty dose of a sexually deviant princess, a hilariously dark clown and a stellar ensemble cast who are as funny as they are enthusiastic.
At the time of booking there was a fab offer on for £25 tickets for under 25’s in seats which would usually cost £95. I was so pleased to find this deal and snapped up two tickets before I had even asked my boyfriend if he wanted to come with me. These seats ended up being right in the middle at the perfect height – although the tiered seating meant that you really would get a great view from any seat in the house.
The first thing which really impressed me about this show was the set design and use of the space. After passing through corridors decorated to look like a creepy fairground, the central gangway into the auditorium opens onto the stage which stares straight into a giant replica of Grinpayne’s gory mouth. Every inch set the stage perfectly to what was going to be an eery tale, from the giant hinges which joined the mouth together to the drop off the stage to a little space where we could see the conductors head peeping out. Major congratulations to set designer Jon Bausor for such an incredibly innovative use of the space – it really did look fantastic.
Photo Credit: The wonderful Mark Passey
After an announcement that we could take photographs of the stage and a bit of cheeky spoon music, the show began.
Coming into the show I had resisted looking up any reviews or the plot as I like the surprise of not knowing what is going to happen. That said, a lot of people who I’d spoken to mentioned the use of puppets – this turned out to be one of my favourite aspects of the show as the puppetry of Grinpayne and Dea as children alongside the Wolf was really effective and instead of standing out, blended seamlessly into the show. When done badly or if it is cheesy, it can be really hard to feel anything for a puppet but Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie (Puppetry Design and Director) did a fantastic job in making the puppets not only realistic but also touching.
Without giving away too much of the plot, one of my favourite parts included the scene where Grinpayne’s mother drowns in the sea (morbid lol?). Using blue sheets to wave above her (I’m really butchering this description) was really simple but worked so well and looked stunning. Equally, when we are first introduced to the Wolf I was impressed by how scary he came across with his face and glimmering eyes slowly being revealed to the audience! Lastly, I thought the use of the giant scythe which cuts across the stage looked amazing and considering it was only used once, really stood out to me as an effective way to change up the way the narrative was presented.
The stand out of the show for me was Julian Bleach, playing a dark but hilarious Barkilphedro, the seemingly harmless clown with a very dark secret. Aside from the fact that his voice sounded uncannily like that of Alan Rickman as Snape, I thought he was absolutely fantastic with spot-on comedic timing. Bleach’s performance really stood out to me and his little asides to the audience just made me love his character even more. Also his costume with the testicle-like tights (yes really) on his head was amazing.
Claire-Marie Hall was covering the character of Dea for Sanne Den Besten (who I have seen before as Sophie in Mamma Mia) and was also fantastic – I was mainly transfixed by her absolutely gorgeous wig which made her look like a beautiful white-haired mermaid and her mahoosive eyes. Of course Louis Maskell was great as Grinpayne but it was other members of the show such as the hilarious Mark Anderson as the naughty Dirry-Moir and Amanda Wilkin as the insatiable Josiana who stole the show. The pair played off of each other so well and I loved watching their chemistry.
Overall I massively enjoyed the show – It was darkly comic whilst also heartfelt and sweet. I’m not entirely sure what the message I was meant to come away with was but I think it was really sweet and funny. The age guidance on the ATG website is set at 12+ but I would say that this is definitely not a children’s or young teens show – there are lots of references to sex and strong language which I, being the person that I am, absolutely loved. I also enjoyed most of the songs, but towards the end, mostly due to the pretty uncomfortable angle of the seats, it felt as though the finale went on for far too long. In general though, the songs were pretty good with some lovely harmonies – some very very high notes for the sopranos to hit!
Rating: 7.5/10 – Superb show!
Considering the number of big names such as Graham Norton and Carrie Hope Fletcher who have given this show great reviews I was pretty surprised that on a Friday night performance, the theatre was only half full.
As it is coming to an end next month on the 14th, I would definitely recommend going to see this show and till the end of the month, you can grab a great deal on the TodayTix app in their Spring Sale!
To find out more – https://thegrinningmanmusical.com/