The Grinning Man

Previewed 5 December 2017, Opened 18 December 2017, Closed 5 May 2018 at the Trafalgar Studio 1 (now Trafalgar Theatre)

The new musical The Grinning Man in London based on the novel by Victor Hugo

A new musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1869 novel The Laughing Man, about a travelling sideshow freak whose face has been carved with a permanent smile.

A strange new act has arrived at the Stokes Croft fair, a grotesque oasis of entertainment. Soon everyone from the gutter rats to the new Queen has fallen for the handmade freak Grinpayne and his hideously beautiful face. But who is he really? And how did he come to be so marked? Together with an old man, a blind girl and a wolf, he has a story to tell. A tale so tragic and so strange that not even he can guess how it will end.

This production comes into London's West End following an acclaimed run at the Bristol Old Vic in October 2016.

The cast in London features Louis Maskell as 'Grinpayne', the grinning man, and Julian Bleach as 'Barkilphedro' who are both reprising their roles in London from the Bristol production.

PLEASE NOTE: This production contains dark subject matter with some scenes of a sexual nature, violence and swearing. The age recommendation is 12 and above.

The cast features Louis Maskell as 'Grinpayne', Julian Bleach as 'Barkilphedro', Sanne den Besten as 'Dea', Sean Kingsley as 'Ursus', Ewan Black as 'Trelaw', Mark Anderson as 'Dirry-Moir', Sophia Mackay as 'Mother', Julie Atherton as 'Queen', Jim Kitson as 'King' and Amanda Wilkin as 'Josiana' with James Alexander-Taylor, Christina Bloom, Jonathan Cobb, Leo Elso, Claire-Marie Hall and Loren O'Dair. Directed by Tom Morris with movement by Jane Gibson, sets by Jon Bausor, costumes by Jean Chan, lighting by Richard Howell and sound by Simon Baker. Based the Victor Hugo novel and adapted for the stage by Carl Grose, with lyrics by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, and music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler.

Julian Bleach's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Mr Sowerberry' in Rupert Goold's revival of Lionel Bart's Oliver!, based on the Sam Mendes 1994 revival, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2009; 'Ariel' in Rupert Goold's revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Novello Theatre in 2007; and the ensemble cast of Martyn Jacques' Shockheaded Peter, based on the poems by Heinrich Hoffmann, at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1998 and 1999, and transfer to the West End's Piccadilly Theatre in 2001, and Albery Theatre in 2002.

When this production here at the Trafalgar Studios in London in December 2017, Dominic Maxwell in the Times thought: "However much I try to put this stunning new British musical into a box, it crawls out and demands to be seen as its own deliciously strange thing... It's a triumph for its director, Tom Morris, its writer, Carl Grose, and its composers, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, all of whom worked on the lyrics too... the songs are uncommonly strong, and the cast of 16 are outstanding... Whatever you call this moving, amusing oddity, I simply loved it." Claire Allfree in the Daily Telegraph commented that the "incident-packed narrative is prone to the odd confusing lurch. There is the nagging sense that the show's magnificent gothic theatricality is at the expense of the more fable-like nature of the story. But the show is also punctured by shards of sardonic, subversive wit... A dark-hearted Christmas treat." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said that, "while some will undoubtedly applaud the twisted ingenuity it applies to a gothic-tinged love story, the whole thing made my skin crawl - and not in a good way... The music from Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler is copious but largely unmemorable and the singing is too often unexceptional." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail highlighted that "this production is done with Brechtian cleverness but is hard to love... Much though I admired the ingenuity of its staging, I never really warmed to The Grinning Man." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper explained that "the play is set in a mythical late 17th century England, and Tom Morris's production unfolds like a fevered and luridly compelling fairy story... Occasionally, I found the music a bit bludgeoning but it has variety of texture."

"Tom Morris's quirkily brilliant production of The Grinning Man fully justifies its transfer from Bristol. Hugo's 1869 novel, The Man Who Laughs, tells of Grinpayne, a nobleman's son, hideously mutilated by order of King James II. He is rescued by Ursus, a fairground huckster, and performs in a sideshow; at once horrifying and delighting spectators when he whips off his mask to reveal a face gashed into a rictus grin... The versatile cast emerge from Jon Bausor's richly tatty set to roam about the auditorium, with Grinpayne and Dea almost kicking over this critic's notepad as they fled over the tops of the seats. The songs, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, have an evocative hurdy-gurdy quality, with two compelling ballads for Josiana. Best of all is the puppetry, notably an awe-inspiring wolf, half-human and half-marionette. This is a gloriously enjoyable show and, although the dark themes, strong language and deviant sexuality may make it unsuitable for young children, it will be perfect for your inner child." The Sunday Express

"Roll up, roll up to an unmissable spectacle - a quite brilliant family musical based on a story by Victor Hugo. In a magical kingdom the circus comes to town. The main attraction is Grinpayne - a boy whose face is carved into a hideous smile that fascinates all who see it. As he enchants members of the royal family, Grinpayne begins to struggle with his past. The dark fairytale plot is accompanied by a stirring score, and the action moves quickly - helped along by superb puppetry, and some knowing asides. The versatile cast are all excellent but the two scene stealers are evil clown Barkilphedro, played by Julian Bleach, and Mojo, an incredibly life-like wolf puppet, manipulated with tremendous skill by his handlers. This fabulous show might lead you to shed a tear, but will leave audiences with a long-lasting smile." The Sunday Mirror

When this production was seen at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre in October 2016 Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that, "at its best, it displays a blackly comic brilliance and inventive daring that's a joy to behold; at its worst, it feels like rambling, convoluted storytelling that craves parental levels of indulgence, like Tim Burton on an off-day. At almost three hours, it starts to flag... The cruelty and macabre wit needs more continuity, but that sweet-sour contradiction just about works. With some sharp trimming, the whole thing could fly. And any show that closes its first half with a maniacal choral number (celebrating the anti-hero's bizarre newfound messianic appeal) called A Scar Is Born has got to be worth a look." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail wrote that it "is a weird and wonderful show based on Victor Hugo's gothic novel, The Man Who Laughs, produced and directed by Tom Morris. The story is a murky melodrama set in a Georgian fairground where a disfigured man is part of a freak show... What transforms the potentially morose story is Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler's hypnotic music... a dark delight." Ann Treneman in the Times thought that the show "almost works: the main problem is that everything about this production is split. There is Grinpayne's face, of course, slashed by a bloody grin, but the story itself is also double-stranded. On one hand we have a heart-rending love story of a disfigured child who finds his destiny. On the other we have a phantasmagorical farce about royalty with sex, drugs and, ooh la la, frock and roll... There are moments, magical ones, when it all works superbly - just not enough of them." Michael Billington in the Guardian highlighted that "the virtue of the show is that it strikes the right balance between the romantic and the grotesque," adding that, "while the musical takes far too long to come to a climax, it defies theatrical convention by simultaneously keeping its hand on its heart and its tongue in its cheek."

"Clarity is not one of this show's virtues, and there is more work to be done and cuts to be made. But an inspired team has created a potentially cult musical that recalls both The Elephant Man and Shockheaded Peter. Tom Morris's production eloquently uses puppets to represent both Grinpayne as a boy and his blind companion, Dea, and is powered by a memorable, soaring score by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. Brilliantly offensive as the sepulchral Barkilphedro, Julian Bleach is one of many highlights in a show that demands a life beyond its Bristol run." The Sunday Times

"What stage puppet could possibly follow Joey from War Horse? Well, the macabre musical The Grinning Man has one in the shape of a wonderfully scary wolf that takes two to operate and, as a proper wolf should be, is big and bad... With a perky score by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, the evening is like a nightmare - mostly in a good way. Jon Bausor's designs are a triumph... The expert puppetry is by Gyre & Gimble and director Tom Morris is totally at home with the intentionally wooden members of the cast. Our tragic hero is played by Louis Maskell who, poor chap, has to sing through a bloodied bandage. Deeply implicated in the story's abundant evil is the court jester, played by the delightfully gothic Julian Bleach, a graduate of the Vincent Price school of over-acting." The Mail on Sunday

The Grinning Man in London at the Trafalgar Studios previewed from 5 December 2017, opened on 18 December 2017 and closed on 14 April 2018