REVIEW: The Laudanum Project’s THE GRAND GUIGNOL AUTOMATON

Haunting tale of horror…

By Myron My

The Laudanum Project returned to Melbourne Fringe Festival for an exclusive season of The Grand Guignol Automaton. Their fourth production is set in Paris, 1920, and tells the horrific story of Sandrine Moreaux who finds herself at the Theatre du Grand Guignol. It is here she faces her fears, desires and obsessions with beauty.

Our storyteller, Alphonse Cheese-Probert, is masterful in his execution and his ghoulish appearance adds further effect to this visceral story. it’s a highly descriptive narrative that leaves you hanging on to every word as the tale delves into darker and more grotesque territory with every sentence, even without using any props or visual aids.

The Grand Guignol Automaton

Despite his strong presence on stage and the visual delights of the set and costumes, there came a point where I felt something different needed to happen on stage. The story is so intricate and demanding that it was difficult to retain the same level of concentration for over an hour when simply watching a person narrate. The reveal towards the end was very effective in resolving this, but I felt something needed to happen earlier also.

The music is a strong component to this show; the three musicians built the intensity and suspense to high dramatic effect. Costume-wise, the musicians, Lady Sophronia Lick-Penny, Barnabas Oral and Shiny Helen are just as grotesque as the story. Helen on the accordion wears an elephant-man like red silk sack, percussionist Oral has a blindfold covering his gouged-out and bleeding eye sockets and Lick-Penny on the keyboards appears as a ghoul. Always in the background but never overpowering, they blend into the story; and the moments of silence when they are not playing for effect are just as impactful.

The Grand Guignol Automaton may be an unsettling piece of raconteur theatre but it is also a great piece of theatre. It was while I was exiting the venue that I realised I had been holding my breath for quite some time from all the suspense and horror. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what The Laudanum Project come up with next.

The Grand Guignol Automaton was performed at Club Voltaire as part of the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

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