Punchy! The Musical – Courtyard Theatre, London

Reviewer: Mark Kellacher

Writer: Kevin McMahon

Director: Tiffany King

Book, Musical and Lyrics: Jack Terroni

In 1950’s London, as the nation recovers from the devastation of the Second World War, one capricious Londoner fights his own internal battles threatening the relationships of everyone around him. Punchy! The Musical follows the wayward life of George “Punchy” Armstrong as he scrambles, with the help of his personified Ego and Soul, to pardon himself from his troubled childhood and the wrongdoings it has caused. As the opposing Ego and Soul lock horns for dominance over George’s life choices our protagonist must navigate the prickly terrain of love, loss and self-reflection as he tries to hold himself together in the process.

Jack Terroni provides the story, music and lyrics to this wonderfully immersive twist on traditional musical theatre. Equal parts jazz lounge set, indie-rock gig and charming morality play, Terroni leaves an assured stamp on this uplifting tale. Inspired by a genuine figure from Terroni’s childhood, the character of “Punchy” traces back to a troubled soul who abandoned his family home in Islington, walking out on his doting parents to disappear into obscurity. Punchy! also loosely adapts Richard Barrett’s What My Soul Told Me, a philosophical how-to guide on reconnecting one’s soul and finding fulfilment. Confident in the bonding of its source materials, Peasant Man Productions create a rich piece of gig-theatre that not only entertains with groove and soul, but demands a closer look at our humanity and the enduring threat of losing it.

Punchy! finds its home in a local pub – the quaint Jameson’s Arms – fronted by a wonderfully charming live band, serenading audience members with a set list merging nostalgic jazz and soul with bursts of modern rock and charged pop ballads. Terroni fronts this band himself, his troupe integrating seamlessly with the energy of the performance. The backbone of this production, the music never feels restricted to the specific time of the piece, the range of styles complementing the spirit of particular moments, be it the raucous of a pub brawl or the intimacy of a confession of love.

Writer Kevin McMahon’s ensemble of vibrant characters is brought to life by a tight knit cast of performers. James Sygrove and Peter Mensah bounce off one another superbly as Ego and Soul respectively; Sygrove’s seedy physical comedy is juxtaposed against the poised performance of Mensah, whose oozing swagger allows the more philosophical moments in McMahon’s script to feel gorgeously natural. Lucy Penrose delivers a knockout performance as headstrong Edith, her renditions of numbers Honest Lover and Be My Angel of a standard that begs to be seen on a West End stage.

Robert Hook manages to portray the personal journey of George from tragic hooligan to adoring friend and family member with an endearing confidence. In such an ensemble driven production, however, the writing sometimes leaves our titular character in the periphery and Tiffany King’s direction sometimes feels as though it doesn’t know where to place George amongst the bodies on stage. Much of these worries dissipate in the second act, where more poignant instances and nuggets of wisdom are given the opportunity to shine. It is in these moments of modesty that Punchy! is at its most assured: King’s movement direction may feel cluttered during group numbers, but the choreography during quieter, introspective moments is simply beautiful.

Punchy! The Musical is an invigorating breath of fresh air for musical theatre; Terroni has stated himself that he did not set out to write a musical, and Punchy! doesn’t feel like one in all the best ways. Shrugging off glitz and extravagance for a raw portrayal of human decency and soul-searching, Peasant Man Productions rips up the rulebook and stands in its own league – a guaranteed evening of refreshing fun for musical lovers.

 Runs until 21 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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