Returning Punch to his Marionette Roots

Returning Punch to his Marionette Roots

A lot is made within the Punch & Judy community of the famous Pulcinella show performed in 1662 by Pietro Gimonde of Bologna and recorded in his diary by one Samuel Pepys.

While there is a lot we don’t know about Pietro Gimonde’s show, one thing we do know is the master puppeteer used marionettes and not glove puppets.

Whilst many have been happy to leave Punch’s marionette days firmly in the distant past, there have been various attempts to revisit his string-operated origins.

Prof Glyn Edwards of Brighton often brings out a large marionette Punch between shows and Staffordshire Puppet Tree’s David Leech has been making beautiful Pelham style Punch and Judy marionettes since 2012 and during the 1980’s he included Punch in his summer season shows at Weymouth Pavilion Theatre where he had established his “Capt Portland Bill Puppet Theatre” and the late, great, Guy Higgins did the voice-over for Punch. (David still has the original voice-over of Guy on cassette tape which is still as clear as the day it was recorded!)

It was in February last year that I drove from London to Stone to meet with David to discuss a ‘puppet panto’ that he had written in 2018. The Show, called ‘Punch & the Pirates’ featured Punch, Judy and a collection of motley pirates.

As months went by I expressed my interest in helping with the performance and David invited me to perform Punch & the Pirates with him at two, one day- events, the Stafford and Stone Puppet-Tree Jamborees that he had organised.

There were three of us operating the puppets. Me, David and a very enthusiastic and talented friend of David’s named Nicky from Stafford.

The three of us spend a day last May rehearsing at David’s home and developed the script further with Joey the Clown opening the show in fine Punch tradition. The story revolved around two scurrilous pirates who stole the seaside clock of “Pelhamland Bay” based on the Weymouth’s promenade clock.

In order to recover the clock (and clear his name with the local bobby who blamed Punch for the robbery), Punch had to travel to “Pirate Island” (home of not only pirates but also a ferocious man-eating crocodile).

Using marionettes instead of glove puppets seemed to very much facilitate a fresh way of looking at the characters of Punch and Judy. The format leant itself to a more story-based approach than the regular seaside show but of course we included a whole ton of improvisation and audience participation as per the tradition that proved very successful with the audiences.

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