Horror and Hilarity: The Legacy of the Grand-Guignol (London)

Date(s) - Thu. Feb. 7, 2019
7:00 pm GMT - 10:00 pm GMT

The Horse Hospital

Richard J. Hand

£10 advance / £11 on the door / £8 concs BUY NOW

Hidden at the end of cobblestoned alley in Pigalle lurked a little theatre which was home to the smallest stage in Paris. This was the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (1897-1962), the legendary ‘Theatre of Horror’. In a district famous for its brothels, streetwalkers and gangsters, the unique Grand-Guignol had a loyal local fanbase and drew in many nervous visitors from further afield. Originally, its repertoire was slice-of-life realism, but it soon discovered what its audience really wanted: a little slice-of-death and a delirious mixture of sang, sperme et sueur (blood, sperm and sweat). Sure enough, the Grand-Guignol’s intense evenings of short plays, interspersing horror with comedy, took its spectators on a journey into the depths of depravation and graphic reality as they watched dramas frequently based on true stories which showed them the effects of sulphuric acid thrown in a face… Or a prostitute skinned alive as her client watches in ecstasy… Or a man cleave off his own hand and hand it to his triumphant wife… Or a suicide bomber who decides to self-detonate… Or brain surgery going gruesomely wrong… Or nipples cut off with scissors… Members of the audience might vomit or lose consciousness requiring the theatre’s very own doctor to revive them… At the same time, other spectators roared with laughter or found their private pleasures in the grilled booths at the back of the auditorium…

Such is the legend of the Grand-Guignol and it masks the brilliant sophistication of its craft: the writers, actors and technicians who with exquisite finesse co-created this extraordinary, salacious and thrilling theatre. The original Grand-Guignol is long gone now, nothing but a ghost. But the phantom of this unique theatre casts a long shadow with an incalculable influence over subsequent popular horror in film, television, radio, comic books and, of course, theatre. The Grand-Guignol remains an essential antecedent to live horror performance of all kinds, from immersive experiences and Halloween shows to the work of contemporary companies such as Molotov Theatre Group (Washington DC) which continue to keep the classic Grand-Guignol repertoire alive.

In this talk, the academic and theatre director Richard Hand will take you on an intimate journey into a night at the Grand-Guignol, recounting the shocking stories, vivid personalities and ingenious tricks of the original theatre before exploring the theatre’s profound legacy and abiding influence over subsequent horror culture.