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Punch - Nottingham Playhouse Review

Reviewed by Amber
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

Punch is dedicated to James Hodgkinson and all victims oone-punch.
James Graham’s Punch is a play with a lot to say – and it says it all clearly, concisely and unsparingly. 

The cast of Punch, photo by Marc Brenner

Based on the book 
Right from Wrong, written by the real Jacob Dunne, whose story we follow throughout the play, Punch explores masculinity, responsibility, and forgiveness as Jacob (played by David Shields) talks the audience through the night one punch killed James Hodgkinson in the centre of Nottingham, and the aftermath of that one fatal decision.

Graham’s script is clever, sharp, funny and devastating, never losing pace or shifting focus from the story being crafted. Shields delivers his monologues poetically, each word echoing and weaving a tapestry of tension and suspense so suffocating you feel as out of control as Jacob. If you are from Nottingham, there are a plethora of references to the local area that make the show feel intimate and invite vocal reaction from the audience. 

The rest of the cast play a multitude of characters, that either are determined to keep Jacob on a path of thuggery and criminality or offer him reasons to change his life around. Emma Pallant is a particular stand out at Jacob’s Mum; her growing addiction to alcohol and mental decline as we see Jacob grow up and stray from the values she tried to install within him is punishing and devastating. Tony Hirst and Julie Hesmondhalgh also break hearts and inspire as the parents of James. Their initial determination to find answers and seek some sort of reasoning behind Jacob’s decision to punch James transforms into determination to not see a second life lost as a consequence – truly showing the power of restorative justice.

The company of Punch, photo by Marc Brenner

The attention to detail on costume help to really drive home which character the actors are playing at any moment; a switch in jacket or the addition of a NHS lanyard serve so well in making the world of 
Punch feel full, the characters distinct despite sharing the same space.

Punch is not just a play that delivers through the top-notchacting and powerful script – the lighting design, crafted by Robbie Butler, works hard to create memorable pockets of action and drama. The impressive lighting rig never stops, bringing to life a mostly static stage in ingenious and creative ways. 

Nottingham Playhouse have struck the perfect balance with such a serious, gripping and informative show; the weight of James’ death and the impact it has on Joan and David is never lost, Jacob’s actions never feel excused or minimalised. The theatre has taken into account the emotional reaction the show creates and have provided resources for the audience that just prove how much care and responsibility the story is being handled with. Whether it’s a quiet space, time for reflect, signposting to other areas of support, Nottingham Playhouse have provided it.

Punch is a must-see for all, a show with the power to show what accountability, growth and the seeds of forgiveness can look like, if the resources and knowledge is put in place and funded. 


This world premiere of Punch is at Nottingham Playhouse, performances continue until the 25th May 2024. Tickets can be purchased here:

The cast of Punch, photo by Marc Brenner.

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