Pros: If I have to pick something it would be Julian Bleach’s performance as Barkilphedro.
Cons: None to mention.
Based on The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo, The Grinning Man is the story of Grinpayne (Louis Maskell), a young man who was orphaned and horribly disfigured as a child. Whilst wandering in the snow having just lost his parents he finds a baby girl, Dea (Sanne Den Besten) and both children are taken in by an itinerant carnival vendor. Grinpayne is now on a quest to find whoever was responsible for his current plight.
The travelling carnival atmosphere is set as you enter Studio 1, the walls bedecked with hangings and posters, with a giant, grinning mouth surrounding the stage. The action starts with a lively number – ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, led by the local court jester Barkilphedro played by Julian Bleach – who steals the show by the way. No mean feat amidst a cast who really all deserve a mention for excellent performances: Mark Anderson as the dippy Dirry-Moir, Julie Atherton as Queen Angelica – the list goes on.
The writers have managed to condense the complexities of the original into a couple of hours, have made it really funny and given it a happier (and more sugary) ending. It is set in ‘Lonnn Donn’ with places such as the ‘Mighty Royal Palace Catford’, ‘The Buckingham Fuzz Lounge’, the ‘Hog Brothels’ of Downing Street, and with character names sounding as though they are from a modern Fairy Tale. The family motto “To him that hath, much more shall be given” informs us of the strategy of the current ruler, cleverly encapsulating one of Hugo’s themes.
Hugo’s book is thought to have been an inspiration for the The Joker character from Batman and the set did have a graphic novel look to it thanks to the excellent make up, costumes by Jean Chan, and set design by Jon Bausor. There are lots of lively, catchy numbers, interspersed with slower emotional songs, delivered by singers who were all in fine voice. A couple of these singers deserve particular mention; Louis Maskell, who managed to be loud and clear despite the mask and makeup, and Amanda Wilkin who rocked one particular number at the beginning of the second half as Josiana. There’s more! In addition to the humour, performances, music, story, costume, etc., etc., etc., we are also treated to world class puppetry from the team behind War Horse.
This was my last show to review for 2017, and what a good one to finish on, a really excellent, enjoyable production. I have a feeling tickets will go very quickly once words gets out, so get in quick.
Author: Carl Grose
Lyrics: Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips, Marc Teitler
Composer Lyricist: Tim Phlllips, Marc Teitler
Director: Tom Morris
Producer: Bristol Old Vic and Trafalgar Entertainment Group
Booking Until: 17 February 2018
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking Link: https://thegrinningmanmusical.com/