Punched out

Keith Gallasch: CIA, Punch

Canberra's CIA theatre company lobbed briefly at PACT Youth Theatre, Sydney with Punch, young Melbourne playwright Geire Kami's take on the puppet classic, Punch & Judy. As Claude Levi-Strauss has it, every variation on a myth simply reaffirms the 'original', so it is in Punch and many other re-workings of a puppet show (in UK composer Harrison Birtwhistle's version Punch traps his victims with wordplay) that has terrified and intrigued generations of children with its primal violence. Punch & Judy has a mythic power rooted in its ritual inevitability. What you look for in new versions is some connection with the present in play with the story's primordial passions. Kami's Punch is an unemployed, failed suicide on the edge of externalising his anger (Judy recommends “getting a job in wrecking”), afraid to look at himself in the mirrors he then must smash. Fantasies of killing the baby left in his care besiege him until, inevitably, he strangles it, the fear of psychosis realised. Bodies pile up in a cupboard and, finally, it's trial by puppets for Punch, as if the complexities of psychology and morality have been reduced to the mechanics of ritual. Even his longed for death is not going to come easy. Sketched like this you can sense some of the play's promise. Had it and the production been more thorough in their contemporary working of the story, Punch might have been a bracing experience. Instead it alternated uneasily between quaint and grotesque, beset by a mixed bag of acting styles and uneven pacing, best when at full throttle and much bigger than life.

CIA, Punch, writer Geire Kami, director David Branson, designer Emily O'Brien, cast David Branson, Susannah Frith, Scott Gooding, Kai Hodgkin, Fabian Prideaux, Phil Roberts, Anna Voronoff, Barb Kraaz, PACT Youth Theatre, July 31 – Aug 4

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2001