This Gruesome New Musical Is Based On The Story That Inspired The Joker


Are you one of those people who hates musicals? Stick with us for a second here, because we’re willing to bet this one will be of interest to you. Just give us five minutes of your time.

Let me just drop some knowledge on you – Victor Hugo was a French poet and novelist from the 1800’s, known for his work in the romantic literary movement. If his name doesn’t ring any bells, two of his most famous works – The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables – probably will.

Well, another of his works – The Man Who Laughs – has gone relatively underrated for a long time, until now. He wrote the novel in 1969 after being exiled from his native France because of the political nature of some of his previous works. It was made into a movie in 1928, and is now the subject of a critically acclaimed musical which has just opened in London.

Titled The Grinning Man, it tells the story of a boy called Grinpayne (Gwynplaine in the novel) whose face has been carved into an eternal grin… sound familiar? As a young boy, he rescues an infant girl in a snowstorm, they are taken in by a man called Ursus who is at first horrified, but eventually moved to pity.


Fifteen years pass and Grinpayne has grown into a strong young man, and the girl Dea is completely blind – but the pair fall in love. The mismatched family make a meagre leaving doing shows in towns across the south of England, with Grinpayne revealing his scarred face to raucous laughter as the highlight of each performance. But Grinpayne is tormented by his blurred memories, hoping only to find out who cut his face open.

The musical is truly a wonder, with puppetry orchestrated by the same incredible minds behind War Horse – and the incredible Louis Maskell taking the leading role as Grinpayne. It walks a thin line between gruesome and hilarious, with the comic relief coming from almost all of the characters, but mostly from a clown named Hardquannone.


But back to the joker – Gwynplaine, specifically Conrad Veidt’s 1928 portrayal, is known to have been the main inspiration for Batman’s nemesis. It’s pretty easy to see when you look at photos like these:


It’s a tale of love, yearning, and hilarious political commentary. The score is incredible, and the jokes totally laugh-worthy. It’s playing at Trafalgar Square with an open-ended run, so you’ll have to get in there soon.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

Images via The Grinning Man, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros

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