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Nottingham Playhouse announces the cast of James Graham’s world premiere Punch, telling the true story of Jacob Dunne

The cast has been announced for the world premiere of James Graham’s new play Punch, opening at Nottingham Playhouse in May.

Punch is based on the book Right from Wrong by Jacob Dunne, 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.

BAFTA-nominated actor Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street, ITV; The Jungle, St Ann’s Warehouse, New York; The Greatest Play in the History of the World, Royal Exchange) will play the role of the victim’s mother, Joan.

James Graham’s new play Punch will premiere at Nottingham Playhouse.
James Graham’s new play Punch will premiere at Nottingham Playhouse.

Tony Hirst (Coronation Street, ITV; Hangmen, Royal Court and Wyndham’s Theatre) will play the role of the victim’s father, David, and Derby-born David Shields (Masters of the Air, Apple TV: Hush, Paines Plough at The Gate Theatre) will feature as Jacob Dunne.

Other cast members include Shalisha James-Davis (Casualty, BBC; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, London Theatre Company) as Claire and Emma Pallant (Cowbois, and A Christmas Carol, RSC; Enemy of the People, Nottingham Playhouse) as Jacob’s mother. Shalisha and Emma both hail from Nottingham, where the play is set.

This fascinating new play examines the incredible power of forgiveness, whilst asking important questions about toxic masculinity, class and the education system.

James Graham said: “The more I’ve worked on Punch with Jacob, and with Adam, the more convinced I am of its power as a real story for our time. One that reveals so much about our current justice system, our culture, and the impact of politics on our community over the past decade. I’m so delighted with the cast we’ve assembled to come on this moving journey with us.”

Julie Hesmondhalgh, Tony Hirst and David Shields star in Punch.
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Tony Hirst and David Shields star in Punch.

Adam Penford, artistic director at Nottingham Playhouse and director of Punch, said: “We have been working on this powerful and unforgettable true-life story for four years. To now be announcing the cast, marking the return of Julie Hesmondhalgh to the Playhouse stage, alongside a formidable set of local actors, led by David Shields in the title role, is a significant moment. James Graham is an international writer of unparalleled talent. He returns to his home city of Nottingham with this vital play, which we hope will change hearts and minds in the way that only culture can.”

Alongside the play, a number of strands of engagement activities will seek to explore and highlight the themes within it, and designer Imogen Melhuish has been commissioned to design the ‘Talking Circle’ – a physical installation which will sit outside the theatre for the duration of the production.

A series of post-show panel discussions will be hosted by Jacob Dunne in the Talking Circle, each on a different theme relating to the show and with invited panels of guest speakers. Audience members and key community stakeholders will also be invited to take part.

In addition, Michael Palin (Full Circle and Great Railway Journeys of the World, BBC; Monty Python’s Flying Circus, BBC) will lead one of the two post-show on stage question and answer sessions, in conversation with Jacob Dunne. Michael met Jacob in 2015 and has since supported his work in promoting restorative justice.

‘The F Word’ exhibition from The Forgiveness Project will also sit in Nottingham Playhouse’s Company bar throughout the run of the play, displaying real-life stories of when individuals have chosen non-violet methods to resolve conflict.

Nottingham’s James Graham is one of Britain’s most celebrated writers, winning multiple Olivier Awards, as well as BAFTA, Emmy and Tony Award nominations. His most recent play, Boys from the Blackstuff, written in conjunction with Alan Bleasdale will shortly transfer to the National Theatre after a run at Liverpool Everyman last year, and Dear England recently transferred from the National Theatre to the West End.

The second series of his BAFTA-award winning BBC series, Sherwood, also set in Nottingham, premieres this year, while his musical collaboration with Sir Elton John, Tammy Faye, transfers to Broadway this year.

The creative team also includes production designer Anna Fleischle; lighting designer Robbie Butler; sound designer and composer Alexandra Faye Braithwaite; movement director Leanne Pinder; movement consultant Lynne Page; and casting director Christopher Worrall CDG.

Punch is sponsored by Nottingham Trent University.

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