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The Grinning Man – Alex Theatre (VIC)

Presented by Vass Productions and Salty Theatre. Written by Carl Grose, directed by Miranda Middleton.

As unique as it is inclusive, this macabre story is filled with gothic horror with a hefty balance of uplifiting messages set to a chilling score

Reviewed by Hope Challis

Alex Theatre, St Kilda

Season 25 April - 19 May 2024

The Grinning Man is a musical packed with the contrasting duality of dark macabre with light uplifting humorous moments. Based on Victor Hugo’s (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables) novel The Man Who Laughs, the musical celebrates its Australian premiere here in Melbourne after running in London’s West End.

The musical set in London’s Trafalgar Square, follows Grinpayne, a man living with a facial difference on his journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. The story is told with the help of an old puppeteer, his pet wolf Mojo and a blind girl named Dea. Grinpayne seeks to know the terrible secrets of his mysterious past and wants to discover the truth of his gruesome disfigurement which leads him away from his former life into the lives of the aristocracy where he grapples with the truth of his origin story.

The story is filled with gothic horror, macabre humour and a chilling and uplifting score of songs (Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler) with wonderful performances throughout. It’s a solid night of independent theatre giving audiences a thought-provoking exploration of humanity sprinkled with humor and darkness.

The Grinning Man, Melbourne (2024). Images by Ben Fon.

Maxwell Simon (Grinpayne) had the audience in awe with his performance which showcased the true anguish and hope in his character's experience. Luisa Scrofani (Dea) was fantastic, her commitment to her character's optimistic outlook and longing to see the best in people was complimented by her soaring vocals during her solo numbers as was her portrayal of a person living with a vison impairment. Both Simon and Scrofani had great chemistry and their voices complemented each other well especially during the tender duets and when portraying their characters’ love story. Melanie Bird (Princess Josiana) and Anthony Craig (Lord Dirry-Moir) were a dynamic duo, they had the audience enraptured in the world of the show each time they appeared; together or apart they had fantastic stage presence. 

Other notable performances included Stephanie Astrid John (Queen Angelica) whose intonation and line delivery was a true highlight each time she appeared on stage. Dom Hennequin (Ursus) as the old puppeteer was emotive in his performance, you could clearly see his conflict and inner turmoil throughout. Jennifer Vuletic (Barkilphedro) was an absolute delight whenever she appeared on stage to narrate the show; her range was amazing, playing dark and humorous moments with ease, she had the audience snickering with glee especially in the audience participation moments.

Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward (Mojo/Cellist) demonstrated empathy and care well with his puppeteering of Mojo the wolf, though the constraints of the independent theatre budget were seen within his puppet and other puppets used during the show and the overall set and costume design of the entire production.

The lighting of the show (Aron Murray) and use of shadow puppetry was a true highlight especially during pivotal moments. Despite this the simple set design (Sophie Woodward) was effective, featuring a creative multilevel structure covered in dazzling lights, one side built like a tower featuring windows where cast members would appear for visual gags, this also housed the puppet theater which was used for dramatic and comedic effect.

This show is a must see for its unique storytelling and its commitment to inclusion.

Most of the costumes (Woodward)were of good quality with a few standouts being Grinpayne’s face wrap, to indicate the connections between characters and overall nods to period costume which were utilized to give the show a unique vintage gritty feel.  

The show’s exploration of disability and people’s reaction to it has been woven into the fabric of the show’s cast, crew and creative team. Lily Cascun (Young Dea), lives with a vision impairment like her character and Matthew Hearne (Osric/Young Grinpayne) lives with cerebral palsy but neither of these actors were defined by their disability in their ability to participate in the world of the show. Due to their inclusion in the casting, the production team hired Access and Inclusion consultants to ensure the production remained accessible for all. They shared their message of inclusion online and in person through videos playing outside the auditorium before the show commenced, they also had an access key for audience members available.

The cast and creative team are now striving to raise funds to support the funding of a tactile tour and an Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreted show for Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences. It was wonderful to see this inclusion continuing both on and off the stage for diverse audiences living with and without disabilities. This show is a must see for its unique storytelling and its commitment to inclusion.


Book by Carl Grose

Music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler

Arrangements and Orchestrations by Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler

Lyrics by Carl Grose, Tom Morris, Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler


Presented by Salty Theatre and Vass Productions

The Cast

Mojo/Dance Captain/Cellist Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward

Princess Josiana Melanie Bird

Young Dea Lilly Cascun

Lord Dirry-Moir Anthony Craig

Mother Shelley Dunlop

Osric/Young Grinpayne Matthew Hearne

Ursus Dom Hennquin

Queen Angelica Stephanie Astrid John

Lord Trelaw Luke Leong Tay

Dea Luisa Scrofani

Grinpayne Maxwell Simon

Barkilphedro Jennifer Vuletic

Off-Stage Swing Angelo Vasilakakos

Off-Stage Swing Olivia Charalambous

Off-Stage Swing Jessie Monk

Creative Team

Executive Producer Aleksandar Vass OAM

Producer & Associate Director Ashley Taylor Tickell

Director Miranda Middleton

Musical Director David Youings

Choreographer Freya List

Set & Costume Designer Sophie Woodward

Lighting Designer Aron Murray

Sound Designer Ash Armitt

Sound System Designer Luminous Entertainment

Sound Operator Josh Daly

Stage Manager Joel Mallett

Assistant Stage Manager Isabella Dymalovski

Assistant Stage Manager / Props and Wardrobe Assistant Emily Busch

Costume & Design Assistant Tait Adams

Swing Assistant Stage Manager Nicole Rammesh

Intimacy Coordinator Amy Cater

Venue Manager Andrew Hughes

Marketing Manager Anna Bui

Access & Disability Consultants

Sophie Delezio

Lauren Hayes

Nilgun Guven from Vitae Veritas


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