Punch at Nottingham Playhouse Review


Reviewed by Louise Edwards

The world premiere of Punch, a new play from James Graham writer of the BBC drama Sherwood (which won 1 BAFTAS and the RTS award for Best Drama) is on this week at Nottingham Playhouse.

Punch is directed by Adam Penford, Artistic Director at Nottingham Playhouse. Set on the City’s Meadows estate Punch tells the true story of Jacob Dunne, who on a drug and alcohol fuelled night out in Nottingham, punched James Hodgkinson which led to his death.

The stage setup is simple. There is an underpass and a flyover with a few barriers and the backdrop of Nottingham’s Meadows estate. Lighting by Robbie Butler is at times bright and glaring and at other times moody and atmospheric just highlighting the character in focus.

The drama starts as we meet Jacob, played by the incredible David Shields (Masters of the Air) who is energetic and buzzing. He lives on the Meadows estate with his mum (played by the fantastic Emma Pallant) and younger brother, Sam. Jacob is out for the night with his friend Raf, played by Alec Boaden, who was part of Nottingham Playhouse’s Homegrown programme in 2019. We meet them on Trent Bridge, mixing with the crowds who have been to see England play cricket as they head into town. He gives us a history lesson as to the development of the Meadows estate, where crime is high and criminals can hide in its design.

An average night out for Jacob, who left school with no qualifications and no future, involves drugs, drink and of course a bit of drama aka a fight at the end. This night he briefly meets his future love, Clare (played by Shalisha James-Davis) who is out with work mates commiserating being made redundant from the Council. The first half ends as Jacob throws the punch that will change the course of his life, and so many others.

As the second half starts we meet the parents of James Hodgkinson; David played by Tony Hirst and Joan, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh (most famous for playing Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street). They heartbreakingly take us on a journey no parent should go on as they chose to turn of the life support machine of their son.

We now see a different Jacob emerge, frightened and isolated. He ends up in a young offenders’ institute and on release returns to the estate for the cycle to begin again.

Restorative Justice are a charity that offer victim the opportunity to engage in a restorative intervention with the person responsible. We see Nicola from RJ (played by James-Davis) talk to James’ parents who are still raw from his death but want to know more about why Jacob threw that punch. What did James do to warrant it? Eventually after many years they all meet. In this time Jacob’s life has taken a different path, supported by RJ and his probation officer.

There are only six actors on stage and, apart from Shields playing Jacob, they all take on multiple different characters. I was amazed by their versatility to do this!

Punch shines a light on how poor planning, government cuts, and poverty can escalate and the spiral that young people can’t break out of. It is an emotional rollercoaster with a bittersweet conclusion.

I visited the theatre with my two teenage sons and their friends and we all thoroughly enjoyed (if that is the right word!) the play and its messages. Powerful and thought provoking theatre that fans of true crime would love but everyone, who know Nottingham or not, must see as this is an issue not individual to this location.

Rating: 5/5

Tickets cost from £9.50

Punch is at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 25 May 2024, for more information or to book tickets visit or call the box office on 0115 941 9419

Nottingham Playhouse Wellington Circus NG1 5AF

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