Review: The Grinning Man @ Alex Theatre (Melbourne)

'The Grinning Man' – Image © Ben Fon
National Arts and Comedy Editor. Based in Melbourne.
Pop culture, pop music and gaming are three of Jesse’s biggest passions. Lady Gaga, Real Housewives and The Sims can almost sum him up – but he also adores a night at the cinema or a trip to the theatre.

Tim Burton-esque, emotional, hilarious and camp – ‘The Grinning Man’, presented by Salty Theatre and Vass Productions, is a bewildering romp through London with an intriguing character, Grinpayne, at its centre.

‘The Grinning Man’ is based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel ‘The Man Who Laughs’. The story is interesting – a man mysteriously disfigured as a child who spends the duration of the show wondering who is responsible for what has happened to him. Maxwell Simon’s Grinpayne is nuanced and deeply misunderstood; his desire to find out the truth palpable. Maxwell’s vocal range is phenomenal too – his loud, booming singing voice filling the Alex Theatre and sending shivers down the spine.

Filling the show is a veritable motley crew of characters – each one as interesting and multi-layered as the next. Stand-outs include Melanie Bird as the tunnel-visioned, sultry Princess Josiana, who brings a contemporary sass and colour to the role as well as some hilarious physical comedy; Anthony Craig as Lord Dirry-Moir, drunk with power and hysterical to watch; and Jennifer Vuletic as Barkilphedro, a pathetic yet overbold clown hiding a dark secret.

The Grinning Man 2
Image © Ben Fon

Set design is minimal but effective – relatively static – but curtains and large velvet sheets brought on stage bring the extra theatricality and meta nature to the piece well. It’s a play within a play, and this means the audience is its own character.

The music, much like the show overall, has a spooky yet beautiful quality to it – cleverly-written lyrics which tug at the heartstrings and move the story along stunningly. . . And the live musicians (props especially to Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward for playing the cello side stage as well as manoeuvring a puppet on stage and appearing in some of the dance pieces!) are totally faultless and a joy to witness.

Costuming is nicely done, believable and camp. Stand-outs being Barkilphedro, Princess Josiana and Lord Dirry-Moir.

‘The Grinning Man’ is a great night at the theatre. It’s a heartwarming, sad, funny tale. . . With an interesting – and fabulously talented – cast of characters to tell it.

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