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Mark Wheeller Review - Too Much Punch for Judy Writer

After more than 6,000 performances I’d imagine there is little anyone can do to bring something fresh to it… but JR Theatre, under the direction of Alex Cobb achieved that!

I will start with the main challenge which I have previously seen presented with ribbons(!), baseball bats, scaffolding poles,  to name but a few!  Alex, having first looked through my book, The Story Behind Too Much Punch for Judy, and seeing these ideas, clearly decided quite consciously, to go for something very different.  Torches.  Inspired! With everyone in the cast using two torches they simulated distant headlights and by careful choreography of their movement he was able to achieve an incredibly powerful new way of staging this accident scene with high impact!  Impressive!

JR were using the new 25th anniversary script and it was the first time I’d seen the new improved opening which contextualises it in the time of the accident (1983) which is now deep in history!  The iconic moments of those years were interspersed in a fluid way with the wonderful antics of Bob n Nob who were both superb!  Thanks… I am never that confident of this but… but, surprisingly, it made me laugh out loud!  Addressing their chat up lines to the audience was genius. I’d never seen or thought of that previously!  The wonderful 80’s soundtrack mixed in with the sounds of the News at Ten theme (I think) worked brilliantly and then when the accident story began a wonderful slow motion section segued into the main body of the play beautifully with the music also slowing down, like an old turntable being stopped. 

Normally when I see this play it is with a cast of four, or with a group of teenagers playing the older roles. It was only the second time I have seen Vi played by a lady of the right sort of age. Hilary Burns was wonderful in this role and brought much new out from the words the real Vi originally offered me. Her portrayal was so real. She managed to convey many different shades of grief… shock, numbness, and outright tearful. This was a master class in character portrayal finding aspects to the character I’d never been aware of and the repetitive nightmare-like sequences only served to enhance this further.  

Edward Mitchell (PC Caten) brought a highly sensitive performance of Chris, reassuring and in control… and yes I could see the subtext on the line: “I imagined they’d been out having some fun.”. 
I also found myself seeing the play as a favourite song I’d heard many, many times. Suddenly the performers, notably Alice Imelda (Judy) and Richard Blackman (Duncan) offered up new rhythms, a fresh intensity and difference cadences. None of these were ill advised. This made me listen afresh to something I know so very, very well.

When we (OYT), performed the 25th anniversary script I remember being dissatisfied by how we presented the bit featuring me.  Here, this was done perfectly with Chloe Orrock – who had also been a very confident Nurse Davies but also, like Hilary, managed to contain both sympathy and anger towards her charge simultaneously. 

Alana Ramsey played Jo and provided an effervescent foil to the more aggressive Judy.  This highlighted the tremendous contrast there in the writing or actually the reality of the real sisters.  

The performance had no dips. It had momentum thoughout. The central performance of Judy (Alice Imelda) held the whole production together with conviction and she, like the others illustrated a real depth to performing these characters in a Brechtian play in a more Stanislavskian manner. A fascinating fusion!

Thank you so much for putting Too Much Punch on in the Camden Fringe and taking it out of its normal educational setting. Here it was a play about people is an utterly dreadful situation trying their very best to see their way through it. You could see the struggle clearly.

Although this review is long… I feel I have not been able to do it justice and I am so fortunate, as a playwright to be able to see such an accomplished performance.  I actually felt… yes… this was a really well structured play it had shape… I hadn’t worked at that but I suspect Alex did!

Thanks very much to Jessica Ramsey and the whole of JR Theatre. A wonderful production. May there be many more!

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