For the best part of the last four decades, horror film critics have certainly added spice to their reviews by referring to any gore yarn as having a touch of the 'Grand-Guignol' about it.
However, you may be surprised to hear that very few may have actually experienced, let alone, heard of the backstory behind this backstreet Paris theatre which existed from 1897 - 1962.
In its simplest terms, Grand-Guignol was often a very simple set up with macabre stories that could be performed in confined and intimate spaces. Yet, the content and structure of the plays, which were often very short in their content compared to other productions of a more classical and theatrical form, have been retained in many of the classic horror films we have enjoyed over a number of years on both the big-screen and small.
In early February 2019 at the Horse Hospital in London - and in association with the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies - Professor Richard J Hand (University of East Anglia's Head of Film, Television and Media Studies) guided an audience through an insightful and riveting two-hours-plus talk, tracing the history of 'Grand-Guignol' back to its origins and right up until the recent Franck Ribiere Netflix film The Most Assassinated Woman In The World,
This recent release told of actress Paula Maxa, the Grand-Guignol's 'Princess Of Horror' who was regarded as a lady of many deaths as the productions were performed in front of an intimate but eager audience of local city folk in a space modified from a church in an area of Paris more reserved for extremely nocturnal activities.
There was some reference to the brief London existence in the 1920s of the 'Grand Guignol', which was held at a venue near the Embankment and suffered censorship issues through the Lord Chamberlain Office, who had to grant a licence to all theatre productions in the UK. Today, there are a few companies throughout the world, including one in Liverpool, who indulge in variations on the form. Recent successes like Ghost Stories have used the form to great effect in London's West End.
It was a terrific introduction to the subject and Professor Hand certainly chose his words carefully and concisely throughout.
Professor Hand has published in collaboration with Michael Wilson, three books about Grand-Guignol, which can be bought on Amazon, Grand-Guignol, London's Grand-Guignol, and Performing Grand-Guignol.
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