A strange new act has arrived at the fairground. Who is Grinpayne and how did he get his hideous smile? Helped by an old man, a lone wolf and a blind girl, his story must be told. The epic tale of an abandoned child with a terrible secret. A disfigured youth who is desperate to hide and a sightless girl who longs to be discovered. Let the darkness seduce you.
Victor Hugo’s novel L’Homme qui rit (The Man Who Laughs) was published in 1869 and has been adapted into several movie versions, including an influential Hollywood silent film in 1928 directed by Paul Leni and starring Conrad Veit. The book has also inspired multiple stage productions, including two musicals versions, a Russian adaptation which premiered in 2006, and an adaptation by Frank Wildhorn which premiered in Seoul in January 2020.
Composers Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler were inspired to adapt the book into a musical after coming across a poster for the 1928 movie silent movie version. They bought on the rest of the creative team through connections at the Battersea Arts Centre.
The Grinning Man was helmed by Tom Morris (who had previously directed the award-winning play War Horse), with a book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, and lyrics by Phillips, Teitler, and Tom Morris.
During the writing process, the musical received two workshops at the National Theatre studios. The setting of the musical was shifted from 17th century England to a mythical Bristol of the Restoration period.
The Grinning Man first premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016 featuring Stuart Angell (Mojo Head/Archbishop Kupsak), Alice Barclay (Mojo Body/Frozen Woman), Stu Barker (Band), Ewan Black (Osric/Hanged Man/Lord Trelaw), Julian Bleach (Barkilphedro), Audrey Brisson (Dea), Pete Flood (Band), David Guy (Band), Ross Hughes (Band), Sean Kingsley (Ursus/King Clarence), Patrycja Kujawska (Queen Angelica), Louis Maskell (Grinpayne), Tarek Merchant (Onstage Musical Director), Stuart Neal (Lord David Dirry-Moir), Gloria Obianyo (Lady Trelaw/Quake) and Gloria Onitiri (Duchess Josiana).
The musical received overwhelmingly glowing reviews, with critics universally praising Jon Bausor’s stunning scenic design, Gyre and Gimble’s extraordinary puppets. Guardian critic Michael Billington stated the production “strikes the right balance between the romantic and the grotesque,” and while praising the cast as a whole, particularly noted the “standout performance” of Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro. Susannah Clapp, another Guardian critic stated the musical was “lovely, peculiar stuff.”
Writing for Whats on Stage, Matt Trueman extolled that the musical “has the best British score in years,” and also praised Tim Philips and Marc Teitler’s orchestrations which moved “ from innocence to rancour; the twinklings of a childhood music box to the wheezing of a rusty street organ. Time and again, music makes the meaning.” Natasha Tripney, writing for The Stage, praised Louis Maskell for his “fine vocal performance,” and noted that Audrey Brisson and Gloria Onitiri “also impress”.
The production was nominated for an Off Whatsonstage Award For Best Regional Production.
The Grinning Man closed at the Bristol Old Vic on November 13, 2016.
Produced by Bristol Old Vic, Trafalgar Entertainment, Eilene Davidson, Richard O’Brien, Kham Inc., David Adkin, Howard Panter, Neil Laidlaw Productions, and Pieter Toerien, The Grinning Man received a West End transfer.
The West Run run was initially scheduled for a limited run from March 19 to April 18, 2018, but opened at Trafalgar Studios on December 6, 2017.
Julian Bleach, Sean Kingsley, Ewan Black, and Louis Maskell reprised their original roles, and were joined by James Alexander-Taylor (Wolf/Kupsak), Julie Atherton (Queen), Jonathan Cobb (Ensemble), Claire-Marie Hall (Ensemble), Sophia Mackay (Mother), Loren O’Dair (Wolf), Dirry-Moir (Mark Anderson), Ewan Black (Trelaw), Christina Bloom (Ensemble) Sanne Den Besten (Dea), Leo Elso (Ensemble), Jim Kitson (King), and Amanda Wilkin (Josiana).
Small changes were made in the transfer, such as changing the setting to London.
As with the Bristol Old Vic run, the West End run received enthusiastic reviews. Although Claire Armistead noted in The Guardian that “the show is almost too big for the Trafalgar Studios,” she was enchanted by the puppetry and visual design. Daisy Bowie-Sell, writing for Whats On Stage, summarized “It is a remarkable, entrancing achievement and a treat for anyone who likes their storytelling with plenty of dark magic thrown in.” In a glowing review for The Times, Dominic Maxwell exclaimed “Whatever you call this moving, amusing oddity, I simply loved it.”
The musical ran for six months before closing on May 5, 2018.
In 2017, indie musician Amanda Palmer released a cover of a song from the musical, “Labyrinth”.
A cast album was released in 2018, which is a live recording from the West End Run.
Plans for a feature film adaptation has been announced as “under way.”
During its run at the Bristol Old Vic, The Grinning Man was captured by 4 high-definition cameras by TVPP (TV Production Partnership) to allow the creative team to see the musical from all angles.
So excited to share news of #GrinningMan's further life! Featuring master of performance capture @andyserkis and the show's wonderful cast, sneak behind the scenes and discover how @ImaginariumUK have digitally immortalised our breathtaking and macabre musical. pic.twitter.com/0trKXqnTlm— Bristol Old Vic (@BristolOldVic) October 23, 2018
The Grinning Man was released on June 26, and was available until July 3, 2020. The stream was viewed in 52 countries and received tens of thousands views.
Jodie Coates described the musical as the “best kind of fairy tale — chilling to the core and hauntingly romantic.” Coates also noted the apt resonance of The Grinning Man during lockdown, particularly the character of Barkilphedro, the clown played by “stand-out performer Julian Bleach,” who she felt represented “connection, escapism and a renewed sense of optimism.”
The musical was re-released online in Season 2 of Bristol Old Vic At Home, which also included Swallows and Amazons, The Night that Autumn Turned to Winter, Messiah, and A Christmas Carol. Viewers could buy a season pass for £12.99 to watch all the recordings on demand, or rent individual shows for 48 hours for £4.50. Season 2 launched on November 20, 2020. Although season had initially been made available until February 28, 2021, select titles including The Grinning Man, were extended until April 30, 2021.
Despite being a professional capture, The Grinning Man is unusually billed as “A rare bootleg capture of the original Bristol version”.
The Grinning Man was available to stream on demand until April 30, 2021. Tickets are available via the Bristol Old Vic.
Theatre: Bristol Old Vic
Producer: Bristol Old Vic
Book: Carl Grose
Music: Tim Phillips, Marc Teitler
Lyrics: Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips, Marc Teitler
Director: Tom Morris
Musical Director: Tarek Merchant
Orchestrations: Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler
Movement Director: Jane Gibson
Scenic Design: Jon Bausor
Costume Design: Jean Chan
Lighting Design: Richard Howell
Sound Design: Simon Baker
Puppetry Design & Direction: Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié for Gyre and Gimble
Stage Manager: Nicola Turner-Evans
Film Capture & Edit: TV Production Partnership LTD (TVPP)
Stuart Angell (Mojo Head/Archbishop Kupsak)
Alice Barclay (Mojo Body/Frozen Woman)
Stu Barker (Band)
Ewan Black (Osric/Hanged Man/Lord Trelaw)
Julian Bleach (Barkilphedro)
Audrey Brisson (Dea)
Pete Flood (Band)
David Guy (Band)
Ross Hughes (Band)
Sean Kingsley (Ursus/King Clarence)
Patrycja Kujawska (Queen Angelica)
Louis Maskell (Grinpayne)
Tarek Merchant (Onstage Musical Director)
Stuart Neal (Lord David Dirry-Moir)
Gloria Obianyo (Lady Trelaw/Quake)
Gloria Onitiri (Duchess Josiana)
- Claire Armistead, “The Grinning Man review – the greatest freakshow in town,” The Guardian (Dec 31, 2017)
- Michael Billington, “The Grinning Man review – Victor Hugo musical is wonderfully weird,” The Guardian (Oct 23, 2016)
- Daisy Bowie-Sell, “Review: The Grinning Man (Trafalgar Studios),” Whats On Stage (Dec 19, 2017)
- Lucy Brooks, “The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios”, Culture Whisper (Oct 19, 2017)
- BWW News Desk, “THE GRINNING MAN Will Launch Bristol Old Vic's New On Demand Season,” Broadway World: UK Regional (Nov 13, 2020)
- Susannah Clapp, “The Grinning Man review – lovely, peculiar stuff,” The Guardian (Oct 30, 2016)
- Jodie Coates, “Review: The Grinning Man – Bristol Old Vic at Home,” TCS (Oct 12, 2020)
- Dominic Maxwell, “Theatre review: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios, SW1,” The Times (Dec 19, 2017)
- Kwon Mee-yoo, “Can 'Man Who Laughs' smile in theater?” Korea Times (March 15, 2018)
- Natasha Tripney, “The Grinning Man,” The Stage (Oct 21, 2016)
- Matt Trueman, “Review: The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic),” Whats On Stage (Oct 21, 2016)
- Amanda Palmer, “AMANDA PALMER – "LABYRINTH" FROM THE GRINNING MAN,” AmandaPalmer.net, (Dec 18, 2017)
- Staff Reporter, “Bristol Old Vic streams The Grinning Man online,” Vodzilla (July 3, 2020)
- Greg Stewart, “Review: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios,” Theatre Weekly (Dec 18, 2017)
- Paul Taylor, “The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios, London, theatre review: ‘Recommended’" The Independent (Dec 19, 2017)
- Alex Wood, “Andy Serkis' Imaginarium has recorded a virtual version of The Grinning Man,” Whats On Stage (Oct 24, 2018)
- Alex Wood, “The Grinning Man musical, Messiah and more to be streamed by Bristol Old Vic for free,” Whats On Stage (May 15, 2020)
- Xiahgirl21, “191030 Musical ‘The Man who Laughs’ Opening in January 2020+casting revealed,” Musical in Life, (Oct 31, 2019)
- Bristol Old Vic, “The Grinning Man,” Accessed via: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/the-grinning-man#overview
- Bristol Old Vic, “Shop,” Accessed via: https://bristololdvic.org.uk/boxoffice/merchandise?productId=LONDONGRIN
- Cast Albums, “The Grinning Man,” Accessed via: https://castalbums.org/recordings/The-Grinning-Man-2018-Original-London-Cast/39370/#release
- Mark Teitler, “About,” Accessed via: https://marcteitlermusic.com/
- Trafalgar Theatre, “The Grinning Man,” Accessed via: https://trafalgar-studios.com/shows/the-grinning-man/
- Vashdosug, “Play The Man Who Laughs,” Accessed via: https://www.vashdosug.ru/spb/theatre/performance/483895/
- YouTube, “The Grinning Man | Post Show Q&A | Bristol Old Vic At Home,” Accessed via: LINK
- YouTube, “Человек, который смеется / L'Homme qui rit / The Man Who Laughs (musical)” Accessed via: Link