Bristol Old Vic presents 'The Grinning Man'; a Show Which Questions What It Means to Be Beautiful

Bristol Old Vic presents 'The Grinning Man';  a Show Which Questions What It Means to Be Beautiful

A magical combination of horror and comedy, The Grinning Man is hugely funny, wonderfully bizarre and truly touching – often all in one song.

This musical uses Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs as a starting point and tells the story of a man mutilated as a young boy to disguise his true identity with a bloody smile. Three different tales are interwoven to create a highly emotive atmosphere, tempered by many moments of laughter: we are treated to a love story between the grinning hero and the blind girl he grew up with, his journey of self-discovery in finding the person who scarred him, and the story of those around him who are transformed by his beautiful pain. The fantastic score brings each story to life, at times complimenting the moments of uplifting hope and at others subtly contradicting the crude and dark comedy with strikingly innocent music. The set has the action take place inside a gaping bloody mouth, creating the sense of an enclosed fantasy horror world which the audience is drawn further and further into as the musical plays out.

The decision to set the musical in Bristol was ingenious. Once lured into a deep sense of other-worldliness, we were then jerked back into reality by the mention of the city or the Stokes Croft fair. That this fantastical story is set in familiar Bristol added hugely to the dry comedy that prevailed in this musical. This distinction between fantasy and reality was also heightened by the inspired puppets. They were used to play the hero as a young boy and his friend as a young girl and were perhaps the most touching of all the characters. There was also the huge wolf-like dog – the other member of their family – whose realistic movements successfully created true feelings of compassion. Although they were controlled by two to three people at one time, my eyes were fixed to the still faces of the puppets themselves which seemed to convey expression just through their delicate movements and the songs sung by their human counterparts.

This musical relies on its contradictory nature. It is dark and yet uplifting; earnest and yet funny. All these elements of incongruity play a part in enhancing the most important point in the story - the astonishing reaction from those who see the grinning man. While he torments himself over his monstrous appearance, when he reveals his face to those around him they are transformed, invigorated by a glimpse of his inner suffering and his horrific beauty. The contrast between the cacophony of sound when he first reveals his bloody grin, and the beautiful soft sounds surrounding the people’s reaction, wonderfully shows how horror meets beauty in this musical. This wonderfully weird musical brought everyone to their feet at the end; fantastic in every way.

Katie Miskin


13 Oct-13 Nov
BOV Theatre
7.30pm, 2.30pm (Sat mats)
£9.50-32 (plus booking fee)