The first thing one notices upon entrance is Jon Bausor’s work on the set, he has gone above and beyond with his vision for this piece. The entire space is covered with red cloth and distressed advertisements for various fayre attractions. This, combined with the stellar lighting design of Rob Casey creates a magical atmosphere from the beginning. The team should be complimented for extremely imaginative and innovative use of space. Coupled with the gorgeous puppets, designed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié, the production feels truly revolutionary. Who says we have to confine ourselves to the black box? No, The Grinning Man colours outside the lines; with actors, props and set pieces showing up where one least expects them. This dark and whimsical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Man Who Laughs from 1869, certainly attempts to be equal to other well-known adaptations of his works such as Les Miserables. And since the styles of the two productions are so drastically different it almost gets away with it.
However, it falls mildly short towards the end, perhaps due to the never before considered backstory of the romantic lead, Dea. Being the very human embodiment of kindness and virtue the character fails to stand out in the cornucopia of fantastical characters littering the story. It is worth mentioning that the contemporary audience deserves female characters with more meat to them than virtue and kindness. It seems like Grinpayne and Dea are two sides of the same coin regarding their past and personality yet Dea does not seem sufficiently troubled by their past.
The story is compelling and the way it is told is refreshing. Worth mentioning is the comic timing of James-Alexander Taylor, in the role of Mojo, and the phenomenal voices of Sanne De Besten, in the role of Dea, and Louis Maskell, in the role of Grinpayne. A dark and twisted fable and the very embodiment of Epic. The Grinning Man promises to take place with London’s major theatrical attractions. - Disa Andersen