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Review: The Devil and Mister Punch

Barbican Pit, London EC2

    Although light entertainment's favourite wife-beater made his stage debut 350 years ago, this surreal tribute to Mr Punch, performed within and around an oak-panelled puppet theatre bedecked with bunting, has a very Victorian feel.

    Julian Crouch's production is packed with ideas that subvert the art of puppetry, while the story told here is much more Punch than Judy. Punch quickly progresses from loving father and husband to the fugitive murderer of his wife and child. A reckoning in hell beckons.

    Through this plot are inserted distracting tableaux, such as a lovelorn Spanish bull who craves to be speared by the matador he adores, which appear to have about as much relevance to the story of Punch as does the price of fish in Denmark. "Look at all the blank faces trying to piece it together," says Punch as he looks out at the audience. He's not wrong.

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