“A tale so tragic it could only be true”
I’m no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest – its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).
Set in an alternate historical England, the story revolves around Grinpayne, mutilated as a child and now forced to work in a travelling puppet show with his adoptive family. The sight of the ‘smile’ carved into his face causes rapture in many who witness it and once the royal family catch wind of the new show in town, Grinpayne’s destiny changes forever along with the blind lovers, domesticated wolves, unruly princesses, and vicious manservants who swirl around him.
Of the new cast members, it’s a joy to see Julie Atherton on the stage once again, this time as the self-possessed queen-in-waiting Angelica, and Mark Anderson’s Lord Dirry-Moir is delectably delightful as he deals with the tangled web of his emotions. There’s superlative work from Gyre & Gimble’s puppetry, Loren O’Dair and James Alexander-Taylor’s work with the wolf is exceptional, and the whole show is just as satisfying and challenging and complex and beautiful as I remembered. Recommended.