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Sample text

As a result, Choisy returned once more to the Grand-Guignol, along with Maxa, and introduced programmes packed with de Lorde and Méténier classics. Following the liberation in 1944 the GrandGuignol closed down until Berkson returned in 1946 to reclaim her theatre. The genre was now set into a pattern of decline which only seemed to accelerate with time, and not even the legendary expertise of Paul Ratineau, who had begun his career at the Grand-Guignol forty-five years previously and who returned to direct three seasons in 1946 and 1947, could halt the downward path.

This was easier said than done, and the new writers it recruited were not given an easy ride. When Frédéric Dard’s Les Salauds vont en enfer was premiered in 1954 several critics were shocked by its coarse language. Guy Verdot likens Dard’s ‘brutality of language’ to Jean Genet’s, but with a crucial difference: ‘with Genet there is always poetry’(‘Le Théâtre’ column in France Tireur, 28 April 1954, 16). The final few years of the Grand-Guignol were dominated by the figure of Eddy Ghilain, actor, writer and director.

Most of these settings recur elsewhere in a repertoire that has other favourite locations such as cells in prisons and asylums, execution courtyards, carnival caravans and barber shops. The claustrophobic potential of all these locations is exploited to the full in the Grand-Guignol from Lui! onwards, and we find a repertoire that loves to confine its characters to an oppressive setting and ensnare its audience in an intimate auditorium. The audience, in due course, would witness a victim trapped in a tightly enclosed space with either his or her tormentor, a dangerous lunatic or merely under the knife of a surgeon.

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