Trafalgar Studios, London
Guest reviewer: Shaun Dicks
We find ourselves in Studio 1, welcomed by a carnival aesthetic. The stage is set like the title, grinning. From corner to corner a grim, dark eternal smile. As we take our seats, there is a feeling of eeriness and darkness, setting the tone for the rest of the show. A demonic gong sounds, and the show begins.
The Grinning Man – based on a story written by Victor Hugo and adapted into a movie but now a musical – is a story of a young man who as a boy was given a permanent smile by metal. The story follows him as he becomes an orphan, and a series of events leads us through his childhood. His aim to find the people who gave him a permanent smile.
Like Hugo’s other West End adaptation this show is a success; it is tight, slick and seamless. The show is littered with dark humour throughout but is also hauntingly uplifting and optimistic in places. The use of puppetry was absolutely magical throughout, the skill of the puppeteers plain to see for all. The narrative of the show is a strong one, backed up with beautiful music, sadly the book and lyrics seemed a little basic. Within the show, you can spot the many Musical Theatre influences that influenced the writers.
The cast of the show was a strong one, there wasn’t a weak link within the bunch. The harmonies, puppetry and movement was tight, obviously well-rehearsed. The characterisation was spot on with everyone as they all smashed down the fourth wall of the stage. A particular highlight was Julie Atherton as Queen Angelica, whose comedic timing was on point as always.
Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro really drove home the element of dark comedy but also presented a well-rounded and multi-dimensional character that really thrilled until the very last second. Amanda Wilkin as Josiana was also a highlight. The standout however was Louis Maskell as Grinpayne, his skill set fully on display in this show, his versatility within the show shone as his voice soared.
If you’re looking for a glamorous West End show this isn’t for you. The Grinning Man is a dark and alternative show. It’s different. Its differences are what makes this show so great. This show is something fresh and new in a world full of revivals. The show is a must see. You’ll be gutted if you miss it.
The Grinning Man runs at the Trafalgar Studios until February 17th 2018.