Henry Mayhew, in 1841, named his pioneering humor magazine after the gleeful little murdering bastard. Neil Gaiman sought him out to use in one of his best graphic novels. Him and the Missus are clues in the 2014 thriller Gone Girl, and in the Marx Brothers’ 1931 Monkey Business Harpo joins them in a performance. There’s even an opera by Harrison Birtwistle.
But I gotta say, for fun and merry murdering mayhem, none of them can hold a candle to Christopher Johnson’s live action adaptation of the classic Punch and Judy.
For the unacquainted Punch is a happy go lucky, fustigating psychopath, a cross between Bugs Bunny and Ted Bundy.
His origins are debated, but probably evolved from 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte, becoming a puppet figure at some point prior to showing up in 17th century England just in time to earn a mention in Samuel Pepys’ diary.
Johnson has pulled off the tricky business of devolving Punch and his family of stock characters back to the original commedia form while keeping the trappings of a puppet show and peppering it with tasty contemporary references.
The plot in a nutshell goes like this: There’s Punch. He kills a lot of people. Then he kills some more. Johnson, along with Jen Albert his producer and the combat-fight-bashing people in the head-bouncing babies off the wall-kicking ass choreographer have a truly deliciously demented delight here. A show that is a genuine case study of style and comic delivery that deserves to be preserved in amber.
We are talking here a high concept blending of clowning and chaos, so Johnson and Albert have wisely assembled a top notch cast fully capable of carrying out the demands they make of them. Synden Healy and Tiffany Cole all have their moments in the spotlight and bask in them brilliantly. Kjai Block is perhaps the Toby the dog of our generation, Eric Rollins is a hell of a lot of fun as ol’ Nick the devil and Sondra Mayer is excellent as Punch’s fussock bitter half.
Ah but the epicenter of the evening’s epicaricacy ecstasy is Jimmy Slonina as Punch. The skills and training that have landed him gigs in Vegas spectacles and Cirque du Soleil’s productions are apparent here for all to appreciate in slack jaw awe.
Ryan Beveridge, a maestro of goofy sounds and Andrew Leman’s splendid puppetry provide a spit shine to the show’s already present diamond gleam.
And to wrap this up, my congratulations to Johnson, Albert and their cast and crew for easily walking away with Hollywood Fringe 2016’s very first: GOLD
Click HERE for tickets and more about this production of Punch and Judy at the Fringe.
Read more Fringe HERE.