I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this.
It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges.
To that effect, the strange haunting melody of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is just gorgeous here, and Maskell’s impassioned work on ‘Labyrinth’ is superlative. How he wasn’t better rewarded during award season I’ll never know. The idiosyncratic orchestration also shines through on record, with the likes of cimbaloms and hurdy gurdies twisting the sound towards the unexpected more often than not. A fitting memento to a great show – too early to call for a revival…?