Laugh yer bastards: The Grinning Man @TrafStudios

The Grinning Man bursts on stage at the Trafalgar Studios. And even if you’re not sure if it’s meant to be a comedy or an emotional love story, it’s determined to show you a good time.

Although the good time is a little on the dark side. As one character comments in this show, “prepare to shit kittens.” If you like that sort of thing then it’s a welcome break from the relentless cheery musical fare around Christmas.

The show, based on a story by Victor Hugo throws in puppetry and style. You enter the theatre as if you’re going to see a fairground freak show. Designer Jon Bausor has framed the stage with a giant disfigured mouth.

It’s grim, but its the perfect setting for a story about a boy who’s mutilated, saves a baby, makes a living as a freak and then wins over a kingdom.

Louis Maskell as the heroic Grinpayne the disfigured boy conveys emotion and excitement of the character. He’s on stage most of the time and is either controlling his younger puppet self or jumping about as the grown up athletic one. He’s constrained by a prosthetic disfigurement limiting expressions to his eyebrows, but his vocal dexterity is amazing.

Julian Bleach as the bitter nasty court jester is hilarious and sets the tone of the show with the opening number “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Julie Atherton as the morose Queen Angelica is also hilarious while Sanne Den Besten as the blind heroine Dea is a delight.

With its dazzling production and inspired music, it has the potential to be the next great British musical. Perhaps if it gets the tone right and cuts a little bit more from the second half it will.

Directed by Tom Morris, The Grinning Man is at Trafalgar Studios until 17 February.

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