Interview: Director on new Punch and Judy-inspired show at the Barbican

For director Julian Crouch, recreating the Punch and Judy story as it celebrates its landmark 350th anniversary was all about going back to the basics.

In a world of digital imagery and ever-sophisticated stage design, puppetry may not compare but it has a charm that Mr Crouch - the brains behind the Barbican’s upcoming show The Devil and Mister Punch - believes will win over audiences.

Taking Punch and Judy as inspiration, the show is billed as a tragic comedy of manslaughter and love and follows a pair of puppeteers, Harvey and Hovey, as they trudge through the rituals of their art but end up facing a few scrapes of their own.

The director said: “It’s a recognisable show - we know what’s going to happen before it even starts and there there’s something quite delicious about that. You think you’re watching a puppet show but as the show continues it’s about the characters.

“I’ve done a lot of puppetry but in some ways Punch is going back to the basics. It’s very simple and very much in the moment.”

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This is the first show in the UK for three years for his company, Improbable and it has previously enjoyed success with multi-award winning Shockheaded Peter and Theatre of Blood, which starred Jim Broadbent, and productions for the English National Opera and New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Despite Punch and Judy not having the same cultural significance in America as Europe, the director said he’d love to take his latest show across the pond.

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Cinema, he points out, has borrowed a lot from Punch. “A lot of early film came from the same roots. Charlie Chaplin and the policeman, Laurel and Hardy and the policeman, they all relate to Punch and the policeman.”

For now though, he is hoping the show’s story, riotous score (the bass fiddle, piano, metronome and bells provide the backdrop) and gloriously theatrical wood-panelled set touch a chord with the Barbican audience.

He said: “I hope they have a good time, and laugh, I hope they are touched by it. Mostly, I hope they are entertained.”

The Devil and Mister Punch is at The Pit in the Barbican, Silk Street from February 2 until February 25 with tickets priced at �16.

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