"Scalpel. Forceps. Drill." Crunch. "Leucotome." Screams.
And so begins the first of three stories from the Theatre Of The Damned who have brought their play Grand Guignol to London for its first full-length run. This is not a show for the squeamish - one woman fainted during the first play when we saw it and if you were looking for post-Halloween chills of the non-temperature-related variety, we suggest you walk right past the overhyped Ghost Stories and keep going until you get to the Etcetera Theatre.
The usher (actor/company manager Sam Winthrop) greets you in his blood-stained apron setting the tone for this collection of three plays. In the first, Crime In A Madhouse, Kate Quinn as asylum inmate Louise tries to persuade her doctor (Tom Richards) and a nun (Jeanette Rourke) of her sanity in an effort to escape her nightly horrors. Is she paranoid or are her co-patients really out to get her? The second feature, The Last Torture is a grisly and gritty piece of tightrope-taut tension as a British mission are trapped in China during the Boxer Rebellion and on the verge of a nasty end at the hands of the revolutionaries. Seamus Newham is immense as the commander forced to make an excruciating choice. Last (and best) is The Art Of Death, a re-imagining of the early days of Grand Guignol with its real-life founder Andre de Lord (Richards again) finding a new way to horrify his audiences (in a good way) by making a pact with the devilish Gilles (Simon Evans).
The acting throughout is excellent, especially from the more experienced members of the 18-member cast some of whom take on more than one role. Tom Richards' switch from dead-eyed doc to desperate director was especially enjoyable. The theatre is tiny which adds to the effect; like it or not, your attention is focussed on the developing horror which is both gnawing and gory; fainting woman aside, the show was punctuated by genuine screams and squeals. If you have the stomach for this, miss it at your peril.
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