If you're looking for a tasteless theatrical treat over Halloween, look no further than Grand Guignol at the Southwark Playhouse. Under 14s are advised to stay well away it warns on the website, though that's no doubt just an attempt to bait mischievous teens and the morbid bug-eyed adolescent inside everyone else. Having said that, there is plenty of gore-drenched dismemberment here so do consider a light vegetarian supper before you go.
The aptly-named Carl Grose's play is a semi-historical black comedy, depicting some of the shows and backstage shenanigans of the infamous Grand Guignol theatre troupe that shocked and delighted Paris from the 1890s until the late 1960s. There's the tale of two journalists on a misguided trip to the madhouse, the scientist who performs brain surgery on his adulterous wife, and the cruel coven of moustachioed nuns — all recreated here in a portmanteau of plays within a play.
The bloody sketches are linked by the trials of the troupe — in particular the therapy that head writer André de Lorde is going through to get over his wriggling knapsack of mummy and daddy issues, as well as his obsession with Edgar Allen Poe (who appears through a cloud of dry ice with a stuffed raven stapled to his shoulder). Meanwhile, theatre takings are down and the psychotic Monster of Montmartre is terrorising the local prostitutes.Confused? You will be.
There is a lot going on here, perhaps a bit too much and at times the show is a shade less fun than it promises. The jokes in the first half certainly need sharpening and a good half hour could be hacked out to improve the piece as a whole. That said, as the blood starts flowing and the campy meta-narrative winds its way into the audience, the show becomes very hard to resist. It builds to a great climax and the actors certainly give everything — not just heart but a range of other assorted organs too.
Grand Guignol is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 22 November 2014. Tickets cost £18 (with £10 concessions). Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.