First performed in the UK in Covent Garden, London in 1662, the traditional story involves a core theme of anarchy, failed babysitting, a random appearance by a crocodile and more fighting than would be allowed in children’s entertainment if commissioned today. However, the slapstick violence is so deeply entrenched in British tradition that it’s not the done thing to really debate the issue. In a world of ultra-safe television and worthy causes, it was great fun to just sit back and enjoy the decidedly un-PC show. Considering how little there is to work with and how much one person has to do, you have to admire the time and effort put into getting their presentations right.
My favourite show of the afternoon was by French “Professor” Philippe Saumont who found some truly unique ways to move the figures and bring them to life. Not speaking very much English, his whole show was made up of sounds, barks, yelps and cackles but had more life in it than most of the others. I would say check him out if you can but I’m guessing he’s not likely to cross the path of most people! It doesn’t do his performance justice at all but there’s an old video of him here. It’s a very strange way for someone to spend their time.
While a huge selection of traditional booths were on show, others opted for more unique stages. The “Smallest Punch and Judy show in the world” above allowed a single audience member to peer into a tiny booth while wearing headphones for a recorded version of the story. The only downside to the days popularity was that it was rammed to capacity. It was one of those examples where being able to move just a little more freely would have opened up so many more picture options but I guess I can’t complain about something being popular.
Featuring puppeteers (or “professors”) from all over the world, the weekend saw many interpretations of the story including a Bollywood version from Professor Patel starring Punjeet and Judy-Gee and a rather dubious satirical show featuring a Tony Blair puppet. It’s fair to say that the six-year old kids watching didn’t particularly get the latter.
So it seems that after 350 years of entertaining children with this rather bizarre story, there’s still an audience for all things puppet. When it comes to a plot with longevity, that’s the way to do it. Happy Birthday, Mr Punch.