Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic)

Brilliant! Just brilliant! This Grinning Woman walked out of The Old Vic and immediately started telling everyone they must go and see The Grinning Man for themselves. Based on Victor Hugo's The Man who Laughs and adapted for the stage by playwright Carl Grose, The Grinning Man is unmissable for its incredible writing, performance, direction and production.

I was intrigued and engaged from the moment I opened the door to the already crowded theatre. The expectation in the auditorium was palpable: heightened by the huge jeering grin spanning the stage; setting the scene for the marvel to follow. The sets continued to bring the  performances to life throughout: a performance within a performance; a stage within a stage; a huge grin; a church; a throne room; a dungeon. The sets morphed effortlessly and seamlessly to change not only settings but mood from heartbreak and despair to joy, and sprinkled with humour throughout.

The cast for The Grinning Man were incredible. They had beautiful voices that sang the haunting melodies of Grinpayne's tragic life. I was particularly inspired by Louis Maskell who played Grinpayne. His voice portrayed a quiet belief, a desperate hope and a childish innocence and curiosity. This was contrasted by the harsh, prideful character of the clown, whom the audience are encouraged to distrust. As an audience member I often felt moved to protect Grinpayne from the pain of his past, as well as his physical pain. We were taken along his journey, with him, as he discovered his true identity beneath the smile. 

The use of puppets was particularly fascinating, and so effective that I initially thought it was a real little boy running across the stage. I have never watched War Horse, but had always wanted to see how they used puppets, so having the opportunity to watch the same puppet company at work was amazing. I loved how realistic it was, and how you often forgot that there were people controlling the puppets’ arms and legs. 

I think the thing that captured my heart most in this performance was the fact that it made me both laugh and cry. I'm not going to say that's a hard thing to do, because it's not. I am quite easily moved to both laughter and tears when watching performances, however it is rare to find a performance that does both, certainly not in such a beautiful way as this.

In case you haven’t guessed it already: I recommend watching The Grinning Man 100%! It is the sort of performance you can watch again, and again, and pick up new things from the plot and the cast each time. Grab some friends and some tickets and go see it. I dare you not to come out grinning.

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