If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

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If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 18 Jan 2015, 00:27

I don't think there will be anything to compare at this year's May Fayre ......
In The Amusements of Old London William Biggs Bolton described one eighteenth-century show at the May Fair:

… a shutter was fixed horizontally, upon which a puppet laid his head. After much formality, it was decapitated by another puppet, armed with a portentous axe. Sidney, Raleigh, Charles I, Russell, and other martyrs of history, bled thus again in effigy through many years.


.... although I may be giving Richard ideas!!
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby profpanic » 26 Jan 2015, 11:22

I put a decapitation (of the giant) in my "George and the Dragon" show last year and got a few complaints ,but I think I will keep it in .
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 26 Jan 2015, 13:21

Perhaps decapitation is not a topic for humour just now - not for it's violence but because that particular means of killing has such horrific associations at the moment.
Sometimes when I have an eager child on stage, if they are older, 8 or 9 perhaps, I might say something like: "It's kind of you to volunteer to help with this trick, not everyon likes to be Sawn in Half! - no, it's all right, I'm only joking. I won't really saw you in half. I was just teasing... No, I'm just going to Chop off your head!"
Now in my career I must have used that line a thousand times and always got a laugh, and nevr given it a second thought. But last week I came out with "Chop of your head" and immediately felt I'd put my foot in it. Actually I still got my laugh and no bad reaction - but I felt uncomfortable at the associations that sprang into my own mind. I'll probably avoid that joke for a while, just as I avoided using comic guns in my kids show when guns and children were a particularly sensitive topic. These things blow over, but it does no harm to anticipate the topical sensitivities of your audience.

Of course you can never please everybody. I have a disjointing skeleton in my marionette show - well don't we all? One show I had a very strong complaint from a lady who said I shouldn't include it since it was very distressing for someone who had just lost their husband!
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby bilbobaglin » 26 Jan 2015, 13:30

I do the story of St Winifred as part of my medieval puppets which also includes a decapitation and in this case a miraculous rejoining of one with the other. Perhaps its the fact that it's done as part of a larger medieval event but it has always had a good response. So far!
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 26 Jan 2015, 13:34

And are you playing the story of St. Winefred for laughs?
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby bilbobaglin » 26 Jan 2015, 14:11

Well, shall we say trage-comic. As was appropriate for such puppet shows. It has cameos from Mr Punch's ancestor The Vice (with swazzle), a villain who marks himself out as a villain by speaking in an English accent despite being Welsh, and Hector the horse. So I don't think I could be accused of taking my stories too seriously.
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 26 Jan 2015, 14:48

I think The Vice as an ancestor of Punch is rather tenuous, and our knowledge of puppetry in the Middle Ages scanty.
But actually why I questioned whether you were performing St Winefred for laughs was one of context. If the beheading is an effect played for laughs, if the lopping off of the head is the gag, then it might be considered bad taste at a time when Youtube videos feature the real thing.
On the other hand, if you were seriously representing the story of St. Winfred where her head rolling down the hill and being re-united with her body is the meat (sorry) of the story then it might not cause the same offence. I'm not sure.
But then, knowing the story, I just couldn't see how it could be presented seriously with glove puppets.
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby bilbobaglin » 26 Jan 2015, 17:50

The beheading is an immutable element in the story of St Winifred, and as such cannot be avoided in telling the story. However as this is a very unpleasant aspect (mostly to adults as children love a bit of darkness in their storytelling, see Roald Dahl) I surround it in silliness but treat the beheading with some little decorum. The head is brought of the shoulders bloodlessly and the body drops out of sight almost immediately below the playboard. This is for two reasons, one it removes the gruesome denuded body from sight so as not to glorify it, but also hides the fact that the head has not been removed at all but is merely flipped over backwards (I remove my finger from the head in the preceding chase scene.) This is surprisingly effective, I had my doubts at first but having performed this often now it never ceases to amaze me how many people ask me after the show how I achieve the effect! I was asked to perform this version at the recent dedication of the statue in Holywell High St to St Winifred and St Beuno (both of whom appear in the puppet play), and the organisers and folk from the shrine were quite happy. So as to being unable to represent the story with puppets, Collier reminds us that Dr Johnson was of the opinion that puppets could perform the works of Shakespeare and, national pride aside, I must admit this story is hardly on that lofty scale.

As regards medieval puppetry, I quite agree that there is a paucity of evidence on the subject, one of the disadvantages choosing to do living history of the day to day doings of country people you find there is very little written about it, whether that’s food, entertainment or the hands on making of stuff. Either every one who needed to already knew what to do or it was considered too lowly a subject to write down. However as an interpreter of history I prefer to begin with what we know rather than what we don’t. We know they had puppet performances, from what has survived we find there is much in common with the mummers and morality plays, St George and His Dragon come to us from both traditions, so we have a starting point. Speaight and Dickens find an ancestor in the medieval clowns such as the vice (note: an not the, all children have more than one parent) certainly his encounter with the devil and being carried off by the same would seem to indicate a close relationship (even if our noble Punch ended up turning that upon its head). I tell the public of the problems with provenance and sources for medieval puppetry and that anything anyone tells them (including me) is a best guess and they should take it with a pinch of salt. My own opinions are altered, sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly, by every new (to me) piece of research along the way. This year I shall be changing the structure of the show again in accordance with something I picked up through this forum recently. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t pretend to. But I’m bally well having a bash and entertaining folk along the way. Beheadings and dragons and all. Oh, my!
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 26 Jan 2015, 18:53

So as to being unable to represent the story with puppets, Collier reminds us that Dr Johnson was of the opinion that puppets could perform the works of Shakespeare

I certainly did not suggest that the story could not be presented using puppets. What I said was "knowing the story, I just couldn't see how it could be presented seriously with glove puppets". Glove puppets by their nature add a touch of farce, and couple this with story itself......!
Dr Johnson had many opinions - some I agree with. As someone who has performed Macbeth with marionettes I have to agree with him here. But I'm sure he was not thinking of glove puppets.
As a general rule marionettes and rod puppets are considered best for drama with dignity, glove pupppets for slapstick and charm.
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby bilbobaglin » 26 Jan 2015, 19:20

Right you are, I'll stick to the slapstick and charm ;)
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby profpanic » 26 Jan 2015, 20:35

Nice one Bilbobaglin!
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Re: If you think Punch and Judy a violent show ....

Postby Chris » 26 Jan 2015, 22:05

Oh dear. Slapstick and charm! What have I done? Now I have this image stuck in my mind of Caradog waving his sword shouting "That's the way to do it" and this Disney head, with large manga eyes and fluttering lashes, bouncing down Well Street, singing endearingly, and a puppy from a toilet roll advert gambols alongside excitedly......
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