Old school puppetry that retains a vicious edge
Compagnie La Pendue have been touring their version of the classic Punch story for almost a decade, complete with puppetry booth, sausages, a climactic battle with death and a squeaking, amoral hero. Aside from some clever post-modern reveals of the puppeteers – who become victims of Punch's vicious humour – La Pendue stick to the familiar story and rely on their hand puppetry skills to deliver a thrilling recreation of one of the oldest surviving European puppet shows.
Punch (also known as Polichinelle in France, Pulcinella in Italy – a criminal needs aliases), represents an irascible, bawdy humanity: whether seducing women, disposing of chickens, dogs and babies or even fighting Death to the death, Punch seethes with energy. His triumphs are violent, merciless, yet oddly enchanting. Once Punch has murdered his family, the arrival of Death, with allies Despair and Disease, appears to bring justice to the villain, yet his charm somehow turns him into an everyman hero, refusing to accept the limitations of life – or, indeed, the booth within which he is compelled to perform.
As part of the manipulate Festival, which brings the full range of visual theatre to Edinburgh from around the world, Poli Degaine appears to be an accessible and playful selection: celebrating the ability of the puppeteers to create an entire world with only hardware and imagination, it would feel as comfortable on a seaside pier as in the theatre, as entertaining for children as adults and ranging from broad humour to sophisticated reveals of the puppet-makers' art. The relentless pace, the good humour and the startling ability of the performers, both human and puppet, are the kind of brilliance that deserves the fulsome clichés that celebrate Punch's victorious reign.