I had read so many great reviews of The Grinning Man and received recommendation from my theatre buddies, I had to go check it out for myself.
The first thing that struck me when we had settled into our seats at the Trafalgar Studios was the amazing stage design. John Bausor created a striking image with a huge grin encasing the entire stage and an old-timey fairground vibe. Once the show gets started, the stage and costume design just gets better and better, a visual feast of colour and creativity.
This reimagining of the classic Victor Hugo novel is gripping from beginning to end. Tony-award winning director Tom Morris and renowned writer Carl Grose have created a masterpiece, with an unsettlingly haunting score by Marc Teitler and Tim Phillips.
The Grinning Man follows the story of Grinpayne, whose hideous smile sets him apart from everyone else. With a tragic childhood and turbulent youth, he grows up alongside Dea, a blind girl. The two youngsters are adopted by a fairground worker, who uses them to present fantastical stories to a gawking audience. Grinpayne is first displayed as a freak with his disfigured face, then later celebrated as a liberator, while he struggles to come to terms with the mystery and trauma of his past.
Over the course of this touching and uplifting musical the story is revealed in bits and chunks, keeping the audience interested and emotionally invested in the characters. Sanne Den Besten is absolutely enchanting as the ghostly Dea while Louis Maskell brings depth and lovability to Grinpayne, both radiating emotion. Though I have to admit that Mojo the wolf, created by the puppetry masters of Gyre & Gimble, upstages pretty much everyone else on the stage. The smooth, realistic movements and the depth of expression and emotionality packed into this beautiful two-person puppet is absolutely stunning and the highlight of the entire musical for me.
This story has everything a viewer can ask for, love, mystery, despair, hope, laughter, tears, closeness, confusion, self-discovery, betrayal, loyalty, the range and depth of this musical is absolutely stunning without being overwhelming. And considering how much trauma and pain is displayed, it is absolutely uplifting and left us with a sense of lightness and love in our hearts. Full mark from me, my favourite musical so far this year.