Monday, 31 October 2011

The Grand Guingol.

The first of the Level 3 Theatre Arts shows at the Drama St Mary's theatre tonight. A turn of the century evening of chilling horror in homage of le infamous Theatre du Grand Guignol which opened as an intimate candle lit 200 seater in the Pigalle slum of Paris in 1897. A place of dark shadows and hidden corners.

The theatre spawned and specialised in a new gruesome genre employing naturalism to graphically reenact moments of murder, mayhem, insanity, tragedy and trauma in front of an insatiably voyeuristic audience. A typical bill of evening fare would include five or six short stories all ending horrifically. Victims were normally drawn from the lower class. Prostitutes, criminals and street urchins were all routinely slaughtered in ways designed to at once thrill and disgust the audience. The very fact that these characters are both powerless and dispensable produces a frisson of taboo breaking excitement.

It's a psycho-physical environment that the immersive theatre specialists Punchdrunk have in recent years seemed to be nostalgic for. A place where we're all complicit in the lust and gore whilst simultaneously harbouring the secret fear that we might be the next to feel the cold steel of the butcher's cleaver about our neck.

It was fascinating to see the students explore a form that has all but disappeared from the theatrical landscape and although at times it was tricky to understand whether they were attempting to accurately reproduce the style or merely parody it there was certainly enough in the four stories they offered to keep the audience engrossed for the entire evening. What better way to spend Halloween?


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