The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show

If a panto and a Sarah Kane play had an unimaginably grotesque love-child it would look a lot like this. The sheer effluence of unimaginably foul language and degenerate deeds that affront the stunned audience from the outset of The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show warrant a grudging respect, as they realise just how concertedly low the show keeps its brow. In the first ten minutes alone, the performance includes infanticide and the attempted rape of an unconscious fifteen year-old, while the cast keep up a steady stream of wince inducingly offensive wordplay and double-entendres. While the show is puppet-free, the cast of four nevertheless perform in the whippet-quick slapstick style redolent of the genre. Each line is delivered at breakneck speed, and a cowbell sounds whenever someone is whacked in the face (so regularly).

Punch and Judy shows have always trod the line between the comic and the terrifying, a relic of a bygone era when domestic abuse could be mounted as a hilarious diversion for children

Despite it’s filthy content, this performance is not without substance: writer and lead performer Brent Thorpe relocates the action to modern-day Australia (‘our land down under’) and the sordid skits that play out as a Mr Punch (clad in a stained wife-beater) embarks on his customary killing spree act as a kind of distorted mirror on Australian social issues, as Mr Punch proclaims his actions to be ‘the universal right of every white male’. The company, drawing on the cabaret tradition of the Sydney LGBTQ+ scene, take square aim at the culture of toxic masculinity within Australia.

Punch and Judy shows have always trod the line between the comic and the terrifying, a relic of a bygone era when domestic abuse could be mounted as a hilarious diversion for children. It is that sense of the retro- of a country clinging destructively to damaging old models- that gives the show it’s real punch. The back and forth nature of the violence, blowing thrown back and forth like a tennis match, proves a strong metaphor for the cyclical violence inherent in these outmoded, patriarchal systems.

There are scattered treats throughout. A version of a Rolf Harris song entitled “Tie your balls to the ground” is a late highlight, and Les Amussen gives a brilliantly slurred rendition of Divinyls “I Touch Myself”. Unfortunately, the anarchic energy and shock value which carries the first scenes cannot sustain through the whole show- there are only so many euphemisms for ballsacks, after all. Disappointingly, the show becomes fairly thin as it rattles to a close. The cast rarely excelled (with the exception of Amussen) and Jimmi Mercieca struggled with the demands of performing various different caricatures.

Worth seeing nevertheless. But don't take your grandma. 

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The Blurb

Forget puppets! The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show is a hysterical, murderous live action romp, so leave your sensitivities at the door and enjoy this wicked adults-only spectacle. Based on the 1832 puppet show by Collier and Cruikshank, The Fabulous Punch and Judy Show is a viciously dark comedy inspired by burlesque, vaudeville and grotesque theatre. This is a no holds barred assault on masculinity and what it means to be a white male.