Punch, with Johnny


Army@theFringe, Edinburgh

It’s 1946 and, in a backstreet pub in the Gorbals, two Scottish legends meet face-to-face. The first is former world flyweight boxing champion, Benny Lynch (Sam Fraser), once an idol of many fight-fans, now fallen on hard times and descending into alcoholism. The other is infamous career thief, Johnny Ramensky (Conor Ferns), safe-cracker, escape artist and unlikely war hero – he’s only here because he’s hiding out from the cops.

The two men settle down with bottles of the hard stuff and start to exchange notes. The Barman (Gerard Rogan), is occasionally called upon to referee the proceedings and… who is that grim-faced authority figure sitting motionless at the back of the stage?

Punch, with Johnny, written and directed by Paul Moore, is a bruising appraisal of the lives of two real life characters with what would at first appear to be very different career trajectories – but as the story unfolds, those differences increasingly blur. Is it really heroic to punch an opponent to the ground? Or to repeatedly commit crimes and refuse to accept punishment for them? And ultimately, are these men to be admired…or pitied? After all, their glory days are behind them. All that’s left now is a slow slide into the abyss

This is convincingly acted by the two leads, but it’s very much a static ‘tell don’t show’ piece of theatre – I’d like to have seen more action, more movement – and when the nameless authority figure (Paul Wilson) has little to do but pass a series of criminal sentences on Ramensky, his presence starts to feel superfluous. What’s more, having read up on the careers of the two men, I can’t help feeling that there’s so much towards the end of their lives that would make for a more challenging play. Lynch in particular went to some very dark places when his boxing career was over but the script steers clear of them.

As it stands, Punch, with Johnny feels like something of a missed opportunity. It lands a few decent blows but fails to deliver a knock out.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

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