Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Ben Walters.
This snapshot of “the perfect model of Australian domesticity” from Sydney’s Café Debris Company just might be the most fantastically foul thing at the Fringe. Crammed into the tiny Attic space at the Counting House, it’s an updated version of Punch and Judy in which caustic social satire and sophisticated stagecraft come wrapped in staggering amounts of colloquial profanity, cartoon violence and fearlessly taboo-flaunting
Flinging everything at us from soiled undies to child abuse, it sure ain’t for the faint of heart but while it’s in the worst taste, it’s for the best reasons.
The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show is a grotesque laugh a minute, from its exuberant slang (balls are “big hairy hangers”, underpants are “poop-catchers”) to its freaky takes on songs by Rolf Harris and Tori Amos. But with influences including experimental theatremaker Lindsay Kemp and Sydney’s queer new wave scene, it’s also a seriously good piece of performance. Writer Brent Thorpe plays the chirpily murderous Punch as “a perfectly well-balanced Australian with a chip on both shoulders” – a wifebeater in a wifebeater-and- clown-drag whiteface who lives in a very contemporary world of dwindling council jobs, smartphones and amateur porn. The rest of the terrific company – Christine Firkin, Tim Garnham and Billy O’Riordan – play the other characters, from the familiar likes of Judy and the policeman to a schoolgirl, a cabaret performer, a teacher and an old man (though strangely for an Aussie show, no croc). The encounters keep building to a somewhat fizzling climax. Each one brings Punch an opportunity to kill but each death tells us something about his – and by extension mainstream Australia’s – twisted sense of entitlement. From economic and class insecurity to sexual identity and dysfunction, it all adds up to a crisis in masculinity for which the whole world suffers.
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House (Venue 170) until 29 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 27 August 2015
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