It’s nicer to emphasis the good things from any trip to the theatre. After all, nobody sets out to put on a bad show. There is talent on and off stage at this friendly venue in Hoxton, but Punchy! is a show with serious problems.
The wafer-thin coming-of-age story follows the titular character (capably performed by Robert Hook) from an anti-climactic brush with the law to an unconvincing romance. Jack Terroni’s story, with a book by Kevin McMahon, drags despite being only 90 minutes long.
Punchy! is not the musical promised – rather, it’s a play with songs, and these are frequently interrupted and hard to hear. The songs, by Terroni, aren’t bad, but the sound quality is poor. And there’s a baffling amount of recorded music used considering a band is on hand.
Director Tiffany King does her best to inject life into the show and she has earned her money, dealing well with rapid changes in the emotional tone of the script. The choreography has its moments (possibly better suited to a screen than the stage), and the costumes are impressive.
The big issue comes with the characters. Various salt-of-the-earth types try to help our hero. And there are his Soul and his Ego, amiably depicted by Jaymes Sygrove and Peter Parker Mensah, following him around. If the trio sounds like an interesting idea… well, in practice, it isn’t.
It’s good that Soul and Ego are a ‘team’ and not simply at odds. And the chemistry between Sygrove and Mensah, like that between Hook and his love interest, played by Lucy Penrose, is good. But the babble spouted – including chats with the dead and a veritable choir of guardian angels – is awful. “It’s a struggle,” says Soul at one point. Yes, yes it is.
The attempts at humour are terrible and the dialogue leaden, painfully blunt and insultingly didactic. There’s only one thing worse than a character asking, “What’s the point of it all?” And that’s another character answering them. Nearly every line sounds like something from a self-help book. Hold on…
Here’s the plot spoiler. Punchy’s journey is based on Richard Barrett’s book, What My Soul Told Me, and his seven ‘levels of consciousness’. The latter are helpfully reproduced in the programme. Whether The Barrett Academy is useful, I can’t say – but applying such ideas to a drama hasn’t helped here. Base characters on a diagram and they end up sketchy. It’s little comfort to those involved but, in this confused show, at least it’s clear what has gone wrong.
Until 21 November 2021
Photo by Guido De Mara