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Photography by Ben Fon | Fon Photography |
Photography by Ben Fon | Fon Photography |

It is interesting to point out that some of the most popular musicals and plays enjoyed today were written over one or two centuries ago. It is a true testament to the timeless quality of the story. Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist just to name a few. Also worthy of mention: Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, both written by Victor Hugo and being appreciated well in the 21st century. The Man Who Laughs, also by Victor Hugo is another example of work that is being revered well beyond its creation date. Written in 1869, it has been adapted for stage and screen multiple times and has served as inspiration for Batman’s nemeses, The Joker. Recently it has been given the musical stage adaptation under the name of THE GRINNING MAN, when it premiered in 2016 with music provided by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. 

On last Thursday evening, The Alex Theatre in St Kilda was abuzz with the likes of Stefan Dennis, Zima Anderson and Tottie Goldsmith in attendance as it hosted the Australian premiere of THE GRINNING MAN.The story follows a young British nobleman named Grinpayne who is grossly disfigured as a child in an ugly incident that he can’t recall. His now disfigured face comprises of a permanent grin. He longs to find who had done this to him. On the same night of his disfigurement, Grinpayne also rescues a baby girl, a blind infant named Dea. Later on in life as adults, both Grinpayne and Dea grow feelings for each other. Grinpayne and Dea are adopted by the sympathetic puppeteer Ursus who makes money by putting Grinpayne and Dea on the freak show circuit. Through song and dance, Grinpayne brings audiences along on his journey to discover his past in order to be seen for who he really is. The strong cast of 12 is led by Maxwell Simon, who performed beautifully as the tortured Grinpayne. His vocal talents are felt, especially during “Blind To Nothing” number. Luisa Scrofani as Dea, Grinpayne’s love interest, also shines and has excellent on-stage chemistry with Maxwell.  Bringing the much-needed comic relief was provided by Melanie Bird as the hypersexed Princess Josiana, along with Anthony Craig as Lord Dirry-Moir often left the audiences in fits of laughter with their entrances and campy and high energy performances. My favourite was Jennifer Vuletic as Barkilphedro, the narrator and as the villain, Vuletic, clearly enjoyed the role and was reminiscent of the Joker.

I felt that The Alex Theatre was the ideal venue for this show and being able to create that sort of intimacy and relationship between the story and the audience. Similar to other shows I have recently reviewed, THE GRINNING MAN was performed on a small stage, with minimal props and set pieces. It cleverly focused more on lighting design, costumes, sounds and effects that added to the believability of the show’s time period. Although it is a show for adults, it could have been significantly toned down. The overuse of swearing and constant sexual innuendos was a little off putting.  

Australian fans of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame will appreciate that THE GRINNING MAN is finally playing here and being showcased by an incredibly talented cast with witty and dark humour as envisioned by Victor Hugo. 

THE GRINNING MAN is co-produced by Vass Productions and Salty Theatre. It stars Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward, Melanie Bird, Lilly Cascun, Anthony Craig, Shelley Dunlop, Matthew Hearne, Dom Hennquin, Stephanie Astrid John, Luke Leong Tay, Luisa Scrofani, Maxwell Simon and Jennifer Vuletic. It is now playing until Sunday 19 May at The Alex Theatre, located at 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda.

The production contains haze, and at times contains dark subject matter, with some scenes with sexual innuendo, coarse language and violence. The show’s runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 20-minute intermission. 

To buy tickets and learn more about The Grinning Man show, go to 


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