by Nick Haverson, Julian Crouch, Rob Thirtle devised by Julian Crouch, Rob Thirtle, Nick Haverson, John Foti, Saskia Lane, Jessica Scott, Seamus Maynard music and Lyrics by John Foti, Saskia Lane, Julian Crouch and the Company.

Barbican (The Pit) Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 25 February 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.30pm. all performances sold out.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 0845 120 7550.
Review: by Carole Woddis 10 February.

Good sinister puppeteering.
Trust Improbable to come up with something a little bit different. Part puppet-show, part grand guignol, The Devil and Mister Punch sits uneasily between genres, and is none the worse for that.

It’s childish fare but not necessarily for children. We’re definitely in the land of adult fantasy in a set that half resembles a child’s doll’s-house and then again an old Punch and Judy stall with dark red velvet curtains and small wooden shutters through which hands appear or a pair of eyes peer out from a whey-faced, curling-moustachioed assistant. Specifically designed to disorientate and unsettle, Julian Crouch and Improbable’s exploration of Mister Punch tickles and delights and on occasion assaults.

It draws on the history of Punch going back to the 19th century, and a hitherto unknown pair of American showmen and puppeteers, Harvey and Hovey; at one point Harvey leers contemptuously into the audience to goad: “Look at all those dark faces, all facing the same way, trying to work out what’s going on”.

Indeed, Crouch keeps us on our toes, shifting between a re-enactment of Punch as we all know him – the family batterer of babies and wife, the cheeky chappie always able to escape from tight corners, be it the jaws of a crocodile or the hangman’s noose, until at last he gets his comeuppance and is sent down to Hell to meet his nemesis, the Devil – and the real life performers in a run-down music hall duo.

Crouch leaves his best hand to last. Throughout, in between the terrible puns and the surprising touches of self-indulgence, the beauty and brilliance of his puppets are a constant marvel, nowhere more so than in his Lucifer, a fallen angel if ever there was one. Sinuous and golden, he’s manipulated with almost loving care, a figure of wonder as well as malevolence and comes as the climax to Punch’s Hieronymus Bosch encounter before Harvey and Hovey collapse before our eyes. Typically the one left standing is Punch. Has there ever been a better time for puppets?

Performers: Nick Haverson, Rob Thirtle, Jessica Scott, Saskia Lane, John Foti, Seamus Maynard.

Directors: Julian Crouch Haverson, Julian Crouch, Rob Thirtle.
Designers: Julian Crouch, Rob Thirtle, Mike Kerns.
Lighting: Marcus Doshi.
Sound: Darron West.
Puppets: Julian Crouch, Jessica Scott.
Costume: Sarah Laux, Julian Croch.

2012-02-12 03:14:10

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