Disappearing Punch

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Postby Nick Jackson » 06 May 2009, 12:32

I'd been working Punch for several years before I saw a show with a roof and it took my a while to get used to it. I can't have one because, like the Codmans, I occasionally include the Chinese jugglers and a roof would get in the way of plate spinning. Also, I like Punch to throw Judy high above the proscenium – backfired once when her hook caught on the show and she hung upside down for most of the performance – these days my Judy doesn't have a hook as she only makes one appearance.
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Postby Nick Jackson » 06 May 2009, 12:36

And another thing:
Why are we discussing this on "Punch Workshop" rather than "Punch Chat"?
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Postby Tony James » 06 May 2009, 14:16

My fault. I came on originally to look at Joe and John's post on 'Roof' - there's a coincidence seeing where the this thread has developed - and hit New Topic without switching to Chat.

An open top frame outside never crossed my mind. I can see what you say Nick and it obviously works for you. Have Codman's never used a roof? At least in recent times.

Are roofless frames more common than I appreciate?
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Postby Nick Jackson » 06 May 2009, 15:58

Tony James wrote:Have Codman's never used a roof? At least in recent times.

Not in the time I've known them – around 40 years. And as Herbert Codman (performing 1909 to 1961) included plate spinning on 4' canes into the family act, I suspect he didn't have one either.
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Postby Tony James » 06 May 2009, 16:27

I saw rather more of Herbert than John and recall the plates. I thought he worked them forward of the showfront rather than within, at least when the long canes were up to height.

I also remember wondering how he managed to work the linking rings complete with audience volunteer. It was tantamount to working the effect with gloves on and that isn't easy!
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Postby Nick Jackson » 06 May 2009, 17:32

Tony James wrote:I thought he worked them forward of the showfront rather than within, at least when the long canes were up to height.

Both, from what I remember.

Tony James wrote:I also remember wondering how he managed to work the linking rings complete...tantamount to working the effect with gloves on and that isn't easy!

And I'm so glad he taught me one or two tricks of the trade!

Lovely man – I still miss him.
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Postby Chris » 07 May 2009, 11:31

Regarding CvdC remarks regarding a roof and wet weather, and the various remarks from Tony it would appear that the chief interest seems to be about keeping performer - figures - amplifier dry. Maybe I missed it but there didn't seem to be any reference to or consideration of the audience. Shouldn't there have been?

Personally, if it starts to rain during my performance, whether I'm in my dry sealed in outdoor booth or not, I speed up or shorten the performance. Kids will sit there and get soaked, such is the power of Punch, but parents won't thank you for it.

On the question of roofs on booths. They have become more common with the advent of "hands in front of face" working. But the common style of the old booths was to have no roof, or to have a part roof with an open slot behind the proscenium. The reason should be obvious - light. Figures look far better with a mixture of top and frontal lighting. Also more light for the outdoor show meant that the performer could work that much longer towards dusk. Also, indoors, such a booth can be sited under a light source.

Nearly all my own booths have a part roof.
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Postby Tony James » 07 May 2009, 12:46

I must go and take a closer look at my books because I had never picked up on open top frames, nor on partly open tops.

Certainly i speed up if it rains, both a speedier delivery and omitting parts to bring the show down earlier. Rather depends on the rain.
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Postby Chris » 07 May 2009, 17:54

I would imagine that the roofs for booths date to the arrival of commercially supplied fitted covers. The early covers would probably be wrap around, and of any available material.

I also wonder about the history of scenery in the Punch show. I know the Cruikshank drawings show scenery but this may have been artistic embellishment. Thinking back to the shows I remember as a child, most of them had no backcloth - just a view of the back canvas - although some did have swing-out wing pieces with a practical window.

And still the most potent memory is of a union jack draped over an upright piano! Sans scenery, sans roof, sans booth.
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Postby Tony James » 07 May 2009, 19:27

I've not yet had time to go through my books and pictures.But I have glanced at leach as he has such a varied range. Page 108 is very interesting. Outside what was then His Majesty's Haymarket, 1910. It's a view from behind.

The upper rounding seems to be tied to the showfront at the top only, loose bottom right. And the roof looks very similar to the piece of material Eric Sharp used over his folding panel frames. A light material fixed to the back of the showfront and lying over and down the back, at the rear.

There are far more illustrations than photographs but in most, a roof is reasonably obvious and some early ones are quite stylish.

The photo of Jack Green at Rhyl in 1912 - page 117 - is another rear view and you can see the roof. But the Liverpool Codman picture on page 118 looks to my eye not to have a roof, simply by the light.

Tom Kemp's 1935 show - page 130 - is not positive but looks like material is going up to the back of showfront.

I am surprised that Sydney de Hempsey never mentioned roofless frames in his book of c1941. Edwin didn't either in Hallo Mr Punch in 1963 and a passing mention might have been expected. Nor did Eric Sharp or Glyn Edwards in their books.

I've yet to go through John Alexander's Frame File but I don't remember reading about it.

As for scenery, I'll have to start again! At a glance, most of the illustrations show nothing at all, others show fabric. A few do have a scene, sometimes a backcloth, sometimes sidepieces.

Cruikshank shows Punch behind bars in prison as a backdrop. Mowbray's 1887 self portrait - Leach page 101 - shows both backdrop and side piece.

There is nothing very clear in most of the early photographs but the Jesson show of 1895 Page 111 shows a detailed perspective scene.

As I found to my cost, the better the scenery the more likely it is a big crowd will not be able to see the figures clearly. They merge with the scene.

As you may know, when I first started my friend billy McComb was out with me in Spain working a similar circuit. He told me and when I didn't altogether believe him he went into the frame and put up two figures and worked them. From ten or fifteen feet they seemed fine to me, not as crisp as I would have liked but OK.

Further back, and by the time Billy joined me I was pulling 400/500 the audience was thirty feet back and billy was right. The figures merged with the bold scenery.

Now I never used scenery from then on. I use a plain coloured backcloth. and the figures stand out very plainly.
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Postby Chris » 07 May 2009, 21:14

The references you make (Hooper, Edwards, DeCourcy, Alexander) are for what I call modern shows. I did say that I thought the roof came in post the fitted canvas. I'm talking of the days when Punch men made their own figures and built their booths.

It may well be that open topped shows carried a top to sling over in event of rain - maybe even something to fill in the proscenium. I doubt if our Victorian ancestors were any less adaptive than we are.

But the history doesn't matter one jot to me, it's the utility- the part-roof is clearly the best. The open part at the front gives better lighting as I have previously described (and allows Nick to toss his balls as high as he likes), while the back part being covered is aesthetically better for the kids in the front row who are looking up.

If I remember correctly there is one open topper who is a regular at the Mayfayre - Chris Gasper. I rather think his bijou fit-up is open to the heavens.
Last edited by Chris on 07 May 2009, 23:09, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Nick Jackson » 07 May 2009, 22:18

Chris wrote:allows Nick to toss his balls as high as he likes

If I could do that I'd be earning more than any Punchman!
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Postby Chris » 07 May 2009, 22:59

But would you be as entertaining?
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Postby Nick Jackson » 07 May 2009, 23:03

Shall I send the audition tape?
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Postby Chris » 08 May 2009, 09:48

Please. Perhaps I could make it available in the Video Theatre. Since Punchmen are apparently so terrified of having anyone see their shows on video it would perhaps be a good idea to widen the remit to include related accomplishments!
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