My first experience of puppets was on Skegness beach.
Here I am, dolly cradled in my arm while I was transfixed by the antics of Mr Punch.
I couldn’t understand his strange squeaky voice and I never really understood the story but I was drawn in to this weird world with its shouting and slapsticks and cries of THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!
The crocodile ate the sausages and sometimes he even ate the baby. I took it all in my stride. I was a little scared of Mr Punch and never understood why he kept hitting everyone with his big stick but the fear was part of the thrill.
That was way back in 1969, I was 5 years old and England wasn’t politically correct.
Some may say those were better days, I’m not so sure. I appreciate people being sensitive to others feelings.
I grew up to be a children’s entertainer and puppeteer, an artist and a mum of two girls and grandmother to one beautiful granddaughter who is my continuing inspiration.
I also grew up to be a feminist and understood that the Punch and Judy story may not be a mythology that is terribly healthy for children in the long term.
It took time for me to get to that position though.
When I first started out on my journey as a Children’s Entertainer I thought that doing Punch and Judy was what was expected. So I made a set of characters and very handsome they were even if I say so myself. I sent away to have a swazzle made ( the secret voice changer to make Mr Punches peculiar voice) and practiced with this strange aluminium and tape contraption sitting on my tongue. I had plenty of near misses and almost swallowed the swazzle in getting my technique sussed. Still, it remained a challenge to make Mr Punch understandable and I understood only too well why I struggled as a child to understand his strange buzzy voice.
Let’s just say I made lots of very small children cry with this very first performance. They didn’t cry because the show was terrible, it was just that I scared them. Today’s children are more sensitive than the 1969 lot! Maybe that is because in today’s world , there is a lot more to be afraid of. ( There’s a debate in there somewhere)
Punch and Judy didn’t start out as a children’s show. It was the satire of the day, the Spitting Image or Rory Bremner show of its time. This is why there is parody of domestic violence, drunkenness, child abuse and features classic characters such as the Beadle and the Hangman. In a very silly scene, Mr Punch manages to trick the hangman into putting his own head into the noose to demonstrate how it was done, and Mr Punch hangs the hangman.
The show was a morality tale , where Mr Punch is supposed to get his comeuppance in a final battle with the Devil himself. There was such public outcry when Mr Punch lost the battle to the Devil and was dragged down to hell, that the story morphed into Mr Punch finally beating the Devil and becoming the ante hero that we all know today. The morality tale became twisted .
So unless I get a specific request and lots of nagging to bring Mr Punch out again I shall stick to making children laugh rather than cry at birthday parties and puppet show events.
Mr Punch will remain in hibernation until further notice.
THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!
- Tears, Mr Punch and the great water pistol disaster. (kidspartyheaven.wordpress.com)
- Punch and Judy (manbehindthecurtain.ie)
- Hits & Misses – The Punch & Judy Show (castleqwayr.wordpress.com)
- Punch and Judy act toned down after warnings (telegraph.co.uk)
- Entertaining London’s Children (kidspartyheaven.wordpress.com)