Punch by James Graham - Nottingham Playhouse. Photo by Marc Brenner

Punch by James Graham – Reviews Round-up

Reviews are coming in for the latest drama from award-winning playwright James Graham, PUNCH at Nottingham Playhouse.

The world premiere of James Graham’s (Dear England, Sherwood, Tammy Faye, Boys From the Blackstuff) new play in now running in his home town of Nottingham until 25 May 2024.

The drama explores violence and masculinity, inspired by Jacob Dunne’s memoir Right from Wrong, an unflinching true-life account of how Nottingham teenager Jacob throws a single punch – with fatal consequences. Released from prison, the parents of the victim ask to meet him. Their quest for answers results in an unlikely connection and Jacob’s life begins to turn around.

Punch stars Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street, Mr Bates vs the Post Office) as Joan, Tony Hirst (Coronation Street, Hangmen) as David, and David Shields (Masters of the Air) as Jacob Dunne, alongside Shalisha James-Davis (Casualty) as Claire, Emma Pallant (Cowbois) as Jacob’s mother, and Alec Boaden as Raf, DS Villiers and Sam.

Punch is directed by Adam Penford, and the creative team also includes production design by Anna Fleischle, lighting design by Robbie Butler, sound design and composition by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, movement direction by Leanne Pinder, and casting by Christopher Worrall CDG.

Also coming up is James Graham’s new stage adaptation of classic TV drama Boys From the Blackstuff is coming to the West End’s Garrick Theatre from 13 June to 3 August 2024.

Nottingham Playhouse’s production of Minority Report, the new stage adaptation by David Haig of the sci-fi book and movie, directed by Max Webster (Life of Pi) and starring Jodie McNee, is now playing at London’s Lyric Hammersmith until 18 May 2024.

There’s no current news on whether Punch will get a West End transfer, but based on the initial reviews it looks promising.

Read a reviews round-up of Punch including reviews from the Guardian and Times, with further reviews to be added.

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Punch reviews

The Times

"Five stars for James Graham’s most moving work yet"

"The Dear England playwright’s adaptation at Nottingham Playhouse of Jacob Dunne’s memoir about killing a man with one punch is heartbreaking and heartwarming"

"If it sometimes feels as if James Graham is the one playwright regularly allowed to address big themes on big stages, Punch is a reminder of why he is so special. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, flecked with horror but also with good jokes, this is Graham’s third new play in 12 months."

"... this Nottinghamshire-born playwright has never been more moving and rarely been more adroit than he is here as he adapts Nottingham man Jacob Dunne’s memoir Right From Wrong. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard more stifled sobs in an audience than in the scene in which Dunne finally meets the parents of the man he accidentally killed with one loose punch in the summer of 2011. I doubt I was the only one biting my hand so as not to cause a scene."

"It’s a study of the power and the challenges of change and forgiveness. I am so, so happy to have seen it."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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The Guardian

"James Graham’s tragic study of a fatal blow"

"A teenager kills a trainee paramedic with a single strike on a night out in Nottingham in this deftly directed play based on a real story"

"Fabulously directed by Adam Penford"

"It is a powerful study of problematic young masculinity that defines itself through swagger, reputation and recreational violence. Jacob’s endeavour to remember what happened is a form of therapeutic memory retrieval and a facing up to what he did. But typically for Graham, the drama also zooms out to the bigger picture, bringing its own politics around issues of social deprivation in an era of austerity, the prison system and young offender institutions."

"Every actor shines, from Shields’ agile and energetic performance to the fleet ensemble who double up, at speed, to play characters around him, including James’s parents (played by Julie Hesmondhalgh and Tony Hirst, both tragically stoic)."

"What is extraordinary is that tucked inside this grave account of crime, punishment, forgiveness and rehabilitation is warmth and humour. You leave the auditorium feeling hope."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Financial Times

"James Graham’s deeply moving new play explores the impact of a fatal blow"

"Themes of suffering and redemption run through the truth-based drama at Nottingham Playhouse"

"The punch that features in the title of James Graham’s humane and immensely moving new play is an infamous one"

"But while the case itself is awful, out of it emerged something hopeful. That paradox lies at the heart of Graham’s drama, which dives into the role of restorative justice and the nature of redemption. It’s a timely examination of masculinity, violence and the destructive impact on individual lives of economic decline and the decay of social infrastructure. And like so much of Graham’s work — the hit play Dear England; the TV series Sherwood — it’s a drama that runs counter to the acrimony that defines so much public discourse and quietly champions compassion and deeper understanding of what drives social unrest."

"In the end this is a beautiful, eloquent and significant play about social deprivation, justice, the profound grace of forgiveness and, above all, empathy."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Stage

"Emotionally bruising"

"James Graham’s new play is a powerful, detail-packed exploration of violence and redemption"

"Graham crams in a mass of themes: the corrosive effects of austerity; toxic masculinity; and a potted history of social housing in Nottingham’s infamous Meadows. Penford keeps the unwieldy play moving at a good pace, infusing the grubby, deeply personal story with gravitas and grandeur. Rushing fluidly between scenes, performers create striking images – kids on rollercoasters, rioters smashing storefronts, shadowboxing youths."

"David Shields is riveting as Dunne, switching registers between the swagger and aggression of his teenage years to the emotional articulacy of his adulthood. There is ferocity in his performance, but also unexpected vulnerability."

"In truthfully recreating this tentative, methodical process, Graham allows the pacing to flag during the overstretched second act, but all the groundwork-laying pays off with a sequence of heart-wrenching conversations close to the play’s end, when Dunne meets James’ parents in person. Ultimately, the play forms a powerful argument for centring empathy at the heart of our society."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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The Telegraph

"James Graham’s study of mindless yobbery will be eye-opening for teens"

"This new drama at Nottingham Playhouse, based on the true story of a teen who killed a stranger with a single punch, is searingly powerful"

"Above all, a powerhouse performance by the chiselled David Shields imparts the adrenaline rush of Dunne’s druggy, self-centred delinquency and the long-term disarray that ensues after he shatters lives in that mindless split-second. Shields brilliantly switches between modes, showing us the charismatic rogue Jacob once presented himself as, the wiser figure he became, and the sheepish picture of abject humility who squirms in the courtroom and tries to voice his contrition upon facing his victim’s parents as part of a restorative justice initiative."

"Hesmondhalgh’s mother visibly struggles to rationalise the incomprehensible, before reaching for surrogate maternal warmth, an arduous journey written in worry-lines and faltering smiles. There are no pat answers, but Graham suggests the human miracle of the sudden leap of faith. The punch itself is barely evoked. Instead we witness a careworn father finally shake the hand that did the deed and marvel at the distance travelled, on both sides."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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📷 Main photo: Punch by James Graham - Nottingham Playhouse. Photo by Marc Brenner

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