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23 October 2017 - 26 October 2017

The Little House at Auteuil - 30 Minute Theatre

Presented By 30 Minute Theatre, Loughborough University

About this event

30 Minute Theatre is a new series of short workshop-style productions where staff and students work together to explore, interrogate and play with intriguing dramatic texts. The idea is to take a short play or excerpt, something that can be comfortably performed over a lunchtime and to spend a few weeks exploring and rehearsing the text and then sharing those explorations with colleagues and friends without the pressure of mounting a full-scale production. The emphasis is on turning the rehearsal studio into an actors’ workshop or laboratory and the production is a performed essay, in the original sense of the word, meaning an attempt or experiment.

The Little House at Auteuil by Robert Scheffer and Georges Lignereux

 The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Pigalle, Paris (1897-1962) achieved a legendary reputation as the ‘Theatre of Horror’, a venue displaying such explicit violence and blood-curdling terror that a resident doctor was employed to treat the numerous spectators who fainted each night. Such was its success that the term ‘Grand-Guignol’ was used to refer to the theatre itself and the genre of plays that were performed there. In addition ‘grand-guignolesque’ has entered the English language to describe any heightened display of horror.

The Grand-Guignol specialised in short plays: every night at the Grand-Guignol featured a ‘hot and cold shower’ of terror plays interspersed with sex comedies performed by an ensemble of versatile performers and innovative special effects technicians. The result was an intense evening of theatre designed to terrify and titillate the spectator through a mixture of horror, laughter and the erotic.

The Grand-Guignol was principally an actor’s theatre. Each play represented for the actor a tightrope walk from the everyday to the horrific, from naturalism to melodrama. It placed such demands on the actor that many became specialists in Grand-Guignol and remained at the theatre for many years. The most famous of all Grand-Guignol actors was Paula Maxa, who became known as ‘the world’s most assassinated woman’ in recognition of the vast number of stage deaths she suffered during her career. She was particularly noted for her blood-curdling scream and was eventually forced to retire from the stage after permanently damaging her voice.

La Petite Maison D’Auteuil was premiered at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol on 24 March 1907. Robert Scheffer (1864-1913) was better known as a poet and a novelist, than as a dramatist and although his collaborator was much more a man of the theatre, Georges Lignereux (18?-1937) was equally prolific as a librettist and translator of Greek folksongs.

As with much Grand-Guignol writing, it is concise and economical, which only serves to intensify the violence, making it appear to be more horrific than it actually is. The play is also a good example of the amoral (or at least morally ambiguous or complex) universe that the Grand-Guignol inhabits. Arguably, the real horror is that which will happen off stage after the curtain has fallen.

The play also demonstrates how the Grand-Guignol often drew on real-life, sensationalized crime. There are clear parallels in the play to the Bompard Affair of 1889, when one Gabrielle Bompard and her lover murdered another of her lovers. The affair became a cause celebre that captured the imagination of the public, who sided with Gabrielle. Shortly afterwards a prostitute set up a service for clients whereby she constructed a replica of the room where the killing had taken place and offered to replay the events, with herself in the role of Gabrielle and the client as the victim, including the strangulation scene, in a moment of erotic asphyxiation. It seems she operated the service lucratively for several months before she was arrested, but such was its popularity that several other brothels took up the idea as well.

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