Review: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios, London
Following it’s critically acclaimed premier at the Bristol Old Vic, The Grinning Man has made its way to the west end where it’s now playing at Trafalgar Studios.
The Grinning Man is the story of an orphan, Grinpayne, with a mutilated face, causing him to have a permanent and ghastly smile. He vows to find out who disfigured him and have his revenge. Adapted from The Man who Laughs by Victor Hugo and with beautiful music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, The Grinning Man is an ambitious but ultimately outstanding addition to London’s west end.
Director, Tom Morris (War Horse), brings his previous flare for puppetry to this productions which offers up some of the most stunning visuals I’ve seen on stage in some time. Puppets are used to tell the backstory of Grinpayne and also bring to life Mojo the wolf. The world of the show is so meticulously crafted with every element of the design fitting perfectly together and engulfing the audience both with the set and actors who use the intimate auditorium as performance space.
The music is haunting and atmospheric with lyrics that are both touching and surprisingly comic in equal measure. It’s rare to find a musical that moves so seamlessly between book and music that you barely notice it happening, but The Grinning Man flows so effortlessly between the two that it almost feels sung-through.
Luis Maskell is a sensation as the broken Grinpayne. He has such an astonishingly unusual voice it’s almost impossible to image anyone else playing the part. His vocals are even more impressive when you take into account the constrictive half mask he wears throughout the piece. His physicality is a strange mix of lyrical understatement and that of a damaged puppet. His performance is perfectly complimented by Sanne Den Besten’s Dea, Grinpayne’s Blind lover and childhood friend. Julian Bleach keeps things moving along as the disgustingly greedy but ultimately lovable court jester, Barkilphedro. Also adding impressive comic flare are Mark Anderson and Amanda Wilkin as the twisted, incestual prince and princess.
This production walks the tricky tightrope between gothic fable and comedy romp with style, class and outward ease. To say that this must be one of the best British musicals in years seems almost too obvious. It’s clearly a passion piece and unfortunately is only currently scheduled for a limited run. Hopefully it will go on to bigger and better things and this won’t be the last time we get to look upon the Grinning Man’s shocking but enchanting smile.
The Grinning Man plays at Trafalgar Studios until 14th April. https://thegrinningmanmusical.com