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The Grand Guignol is a shocking and radical performance of two short pieces put on by the non-profit theater company Pandemic Collective.

The roots of the horror sub-genre stem from pre-World War II France, where a theater called the Grand Guignol performed stories of real horror, including themes like loss, insanity, and paranoia. World War II put an end to the performances, since real life became much more horrifying than anything the theater could put on, and what seemed to be impossible became reality.

The fact that many of these stories are not based in the paranormal, or only use it in a metaphorical sense, make the show all that much scarier. Watching stunning actors perform a tale about losing their minds in a way where you can relate to the characters gives the viewer a sense of uneasiness that is more real and terrifying than from any screen.

I was lucky enough to see Pandemic’s most recent Grand Guignol, and was taken aback by how successfully just three or four actors could put fear into an audience with such a small budget and minimal room to move around. The phenomenal acting created a thick atmosphere of anxiety and tension which made it hard to even breathe.

Without spoiling the show for you, one of the short plays took the form of the audience watching a girl turn to the internet for help on being stalked by a supernatural being and finding a forum. The actors beautifully incorporated satire and terror into this piece where the supernatural being most likely represented the girl’s mental illness. The short play opened up important dialogue on mental illness and what it means to reach out for help.

The other piece was about a grieving family, their loss turning into hatred towards each other, themselves, and the world. Not only were the acting and dialogue simply fantastic, the act was accompanied by live music, which brought a sense of uneasiness, and by using the area surrounding the audience to act, they gave a sense of being actually inside of the play. This amped up the horror, leaving audience members constantly looking around them for something hiding in the darkness.

Overall, the experience was unlike any I have ever had before. Horror theater is not something that is easy to do, and this specific company puts their heart and soul into giving their audience a genuine adventure and a look into the minds of their characters. Make sure to check out their upcoming performances here. This particular show stops running July 7, so grab your tickets today! 

Images courtesy Pandemic Collective