Theatre of the Damned Blog

News, reviews and information on all things horror.
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Friday, 12 November 2010

Blocking the Blind - Exploring 'Le Baiser dans la nuit' - Part 2

Level’s dreadful scene has been revived and replayed almost as often as the Grand Guignol format itself, and recent years have seen an increasing number of productions across the world. Whether it is the simplicity of its staging, the effectiveness of its writing and set-pieces, its iconic position within the repertoire or simply its relatively widespread distribution in English translation, Le Baiser dans la nuit has remained the poster child of all things Grand Guignol. The purpose of this concluding discussion (the first part of which, dealing with its origin, early history and broad themes, can be found here) is to consider the play in modern performance, and the issues which these revisitations have raised for theatre makers. Rather than attempting anything like a comprehensive investigation of the multitude of 21st century adaptations, I will instead consider a small number of notable revivals, and focus upon versions which we ourselves have produced, as well as those which we have seen and considered particularly interesting. We have so far considered vitriol vengeance in theory, and it’s time to turn to practice.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Violence and Vitriol - Exploring 'Le Baiser dans la nuit' - Part 1

The curtain rises on a pitiful scene, as a young man, a doctor and a nurse debate the condition of a horrifically mutilated patient. Though his back is to us, we can see the blindfold over his eyes, and the blood and pus dripping down his cheeks. He has been attacked with acid by his wronged lover, they say, he is blind and will remain so for the rest of his life. The scene changes and the infamous lover arrives: she has been acquitted, thanks largely to her victim’s refusal to testify, and has returned to him at his request. As their conversation slides closer and closer to obscene psychological torture, he finally reveals his plan and exacts his revenge, scourging her face with acid in a brutal act of tit for tat retribution. Maurice Level’s Le Baiser dans la nuit (most often known in English as The Final Kiss) has come to its bloody climax. It is a classic scene, perhaps the most famous in the entire history of the Grand Guignol. It has been revived countless times, and, together with Crime dans une maison de fous (Crime in a Madhouse) by André de Lorde and Alfred Binet, it has become the poster-child of the entire genre. There are few Grand Guignol companies who have not attempted it, and it has been adapted into a variety of other media. Having briefly examined Frederick Witney’s own adaptation of the play in last week’s blog, I would here like to dedicate some time to this classic play. The first part of this article will examine the history and context of its conception, together with its enduring popularity throughout the 20th century.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Fredrick Witney – A forgotten legend of the Grand Guignol

Followers and enthusiasts of the Grand Guignol will know the names of Oscar Méténier, who founded the great Parisian theatre in 1894, and of Max Maurey who brought horror to the fore of its repertoire and led it through great prosperity in the early 20th century. They may know of André de Lorde, the unassuming librarian who wrote so many of its greatest dramas, and of Paula Maxa, the original scream-queen, who died a thousand violent deaths before Janet Leigh even stepped into the shower. The London Grand Guignol was always the poor cousin of its French counterpart, but even Jose Levy, who ran its eight series at the Little Theatre in the Strand from 1920-22, was awarded the Legion of Honour for his work, and Richard Hand and Michael Wilson’s wonderful book London’s Grand Guignol and the Theatre of Horror has at last given his contribution the academic acclaim it deserves. Not so Fredrick Witney, whose involvement in the Grand Guignol has been reduced to a mere footnote in theatrical history. I’d like to use this, the inaugural article on our fledgling company’s blog, to take some time to examine and consider the writing of a man who I consider to be one of the Grand Guignol’s finest playwrights. Halloween is almost upon us, and I’m in the mood for resurrecting a true horror legend from his grave.