BWW Reviews: THE REVENGE OF THE GRAND GUIGNOL - Off to a Fine Start
It is a testament to us Brits' love of horror with a twist that a series of ITV single dramas from the late 70s is still shown regularly on cable channels. Tales of the Unexpected followed up its memorable title sequence with half-hour plays, often charaterised by a comic/macabre twist in the tail. If you liked those - and plenty still do - you'll enjoy the four short plays presented by The Theatre of the Damned as a tribute to the legendary (and alliteratively eponymous) Parisian theatre.
The Laboratory of Hallucinations is first cab off the rank and is an adaptation (by Tom Richards and Stewart Pringle) of a play originally performed at the Grand Guignol. Yes there's a damsel in distress; yes there's a mad scientist; yes his assistant tells him that he's going too far this time and yes there's a touch of Hamlet come the denouement, but the audience expect nothing less and lap it up. The three other plays (two by Pringle, one by Richards) - though inspired by the same source as the first - have a modern feel, with more rounded characters, but still sit four-square within the genre. If the twists in the tales are not as unexpected as they might be, that doesn't mean it's not a whole lot of fun getting there.
Your writer saw the first performance of the run and there were technical problems, but even perfectly executed special effects can never compete with cinema's magic - and they shouldn't. Theatre turns on the relationship of actor, text and staging and the writers / co-directors coax some strong performances from a cast who wisely stop just short of hamming. Alicia Bennet and James Utechin catch the Skyped-up student lovers very well in the third play and Scarlet Sweeney is a scarily psychotic wartime factory worker in the closing drama.