By coincidence, I had arranged to take a party of students to see this show before getting my press invite. We had been looking for a play which would appeal to teenagers, and horror certainly seemed suitable, especially considering the impending arrival of Halloween. So I saw the show two days before opening night while it was still in preview, which often means having to forgive the odd glitch or two while everyone really gets into their stride. That said, and allowing at least a mile-wide corridor for unforeseen eventualities, preview nerves and any other misfortune, this show is still dire.
Today, Grand Guignol is a term most frequently used to describe a theatrical genre which presents naturalistic interpretations of horror-inspired themes. Blood and gore are usually at the top of the agenda in this arena. The brand comes from the theatre of almost the same name which resided in Paris between the late 19th century and the mid-twentieth century.
A quartet of plays make up the programme for 'Revenge of the Grand Guignol'. Co-director Stewart Pringle penned one of them and adapted two of the others based on work by Lucien Descaves, André de Lorde and Henri Bauche.
The first play – 'The laboratory of Hallucinations' – takes us to a kind of hospital for incurables at which the principal surgeon experiments on the terminally ill. The second play – 'As Ye Sow' – introduces us to an old man with a guilty secret. 'Hero' is about a two-timing young man whose girlfriend is living in Russia and gets attacked while he is talking to her online. Finally, we are taken to a munitions factory where three blind women work producing munitions. One of them takes a psychopathic dislike to a new employee.
This is the least scary show I think I have ever endured, and I do mean 'endured'. The effects are lame, even by low-budget standards, the music and sound effects rumble laboriously in the background – occasionally stopping and starting inexplicably. And the stories are trite. I did jump at one point early on, but that was because I was waiting for something to happen and managed to startle myself when one of the characters moved suddenly. There is a one scary moment which works quite well, just after the appearance of an apparition that seemed more like a scarecrow. In fact, there are moments when one has to laugh because the effects are so lame. That can sometimes produce a successful show, when it is so bad that everyone flocks to see it. But this is not in that league.
By the interval, I was beginning to suspect that this was intended to be an oddly obscure parody of the genre, or that the first half was designed to lull us into some kind of false security and that what was to come would be a really terrifying finale. In fact, I was willing that to be true with every neuron I could summon to the cause. But the second half merely proved more of the same.
The show started more than 30 minutes late and the scene changes are monumentally slow and are conducted ineptly by an army of technicians combined with the cast for good measure. At times, the darkened stage seemed like Euston in the rush-hour.
The recent success of 'Ghost Stories' in the West End left me amazed, if not totally stupefied and bewildered. That show couldn't even raise a hair on your neck, never mind turn you into a quivering, terrified wreck. And I am afraid that 'Revenge of the Grand Guignol' has fallen rather clumsily out of the same mould. It takes far more than telling people you are putting on 'the scariest show in London' to frighten them rigid. And the show is about as macabre as staring into your local butcher's window for an hour or two. No, that would definitely be more macabre.
But don't just take my word for it. The 10 students and three staff I had taken to see the show were all of the same mind, with only derisory comments on offer. 'Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad', said one student. And that sums it up almost perfectly. The only 'revenge' that might be exacted at this show would be if the audience demanded their money back at the end .