Writings, 1942

Encounter with Punch

Programme notes, Stockholm’s Student Theatre.

About the text

In his debut as dramatist, the programme notes to The Death of Punch features an imagined meeting between the playwright Bergman and the star of the show, Punch. 

That nose was unmistakable.
It was Punch.
I saw immediately that he was frightened, agitated. That cruel little mouth was twitching, big bloodshot eyes glancing this way and that. Punch was afraid.
– How are things, Punch?
- You know my play, right? I’ve completed the final act. We just finished performing it – me, the police, the executioner. But my nerves are shot. Maybe I’m starting to get old.
- Sure, you’re getting older. That’s why you should do other plays. Like the kind I write. You can’t keep going on this way.
- What a load of nonsense. That’s not what it is. You know, one day, maybe the executioner doesn’t let himself get fooled, the way he has every time for, who knows, the past five hundred years. One day, maybe he says, “Oho, friend, you’re not fooling me. It’s me that should be hanging you, not the other way around!” What do I do then? If that happens, I'm done for. That’s what I think about now, every time I go on stage. I can’t calm down until I’ve strung the bastard up. And not even really then, by the way.
- But… I mean, it’s only a play.
- Are you sure about that? I, for one, have started to have my doubts. And that’s why I’m afraid. - Punch is afraid.
- It’s just nerves, is all. You should take some vitamins. Maybe start taking a morning stroll.
- Don’t patronise me. It’s like I’ve been telling you. Look: if I smack my wife up at home, or in the theatre, it’s all the same to me. I don’t know when I’m acting anymore. Is it when I’m in the kitchen, or up on the stage?
- I understand. But, now you’re going to do my play. That’s not so bad, right?
- It’s obvious you haven’t understood a single thing I’ve been saying this whole time. Your play is worse than everything thing else I’ve had to put up with.
- But… what do you mean? You were so satisfied at first! Weren’t you?
- Maybe a little. For an old actor, a big roll always massages your ego. But not this time. That roll is horrible.
- What do you mean?
- I mean, I’m going to die.
- Die? Oh, you mean in the play. But that doesn’t matter.
- Maybe. But have you ever in your life heard of Punch dying? Everyone else has died, but never Punch. It’s absurd. Idiotic!
- Oh… is that really how you feel?
- Don’t be so sensitive. I say what I think, and I think that it’s ridiculous that Punch dies. Punch is immortal! And then he's supposed to just up and die?
- How would you have it, then?
- I don’t know for sure. But if I had my way, I’d start by kicking out those fellows with the coffin and keep on partying. And then, when the wife came home, I’d go and bang her, and then I’d roll around in the mud with the pigs. And then I’d murder Death. And then I’d go tweak God’s beard and tickle his feet. Maybe kill him, too. Then I’d rape a couple of angels, and… now, that would be a play worth seeing!
- Maybe so. Thanks for the suggestions, anyway.
- But this! This is unbearable. I’m saying this as an old actor: even if it goes well, it’s no thanks to you.
- No, obviously it would be thanks to you.
- Well, good. Then we understand each other.
There came a moment’s silence.
- I’m off. I’ve got to have a drink and a bite to eat before we start rehearsing. So I can build up a little steam.
- You mean, self-esteem?
- Don’t get clever with me.
- Fine, fine. But promise me to do the play right. I mean, the way it's written. Not your way.
- I don’t know. We’ll see. Goodbye.
And with that vague threat, Punch slunk away to the nearest bar.