3. Sets, Types of Puppet Theatres and Audiences
This section will mainly be about the context of the Punch and Judy.
I will look mainly at the Victorian Society; their need for entertainment, the fairs, the shows, the theatre and general excitement. This was the age at which Punch at Judy was at the height of its popularity. So why did the Victorians like it so much?
Where and when were they shown?
How did the Victorians react to the violent nature of the shows? This will be an interesting aspect to look at.
What did the sets look like? Why were they decorated in a particular way? Where does the design originate? What are its links with theatre? Who were the performances for? Were the performances altered for different audiences?
With the arrival of train travel in many exciting possibilities were now available for the Victorians to visit and experience places they had never been to before; this was a liberating time. Ordinary people were beginning to have money and they wanted to use it to enjoy themselves.
Until Thomas Cook had organised the world’s first advertised excursion train trip, on 5 July 1841, we had never had the concept of a ‘holiday’ before. This was a completely new idea for the Victorian people and they embraced it; they became “pleasure seekers” (Hart-David, Adam, p104).
One place the Victorians enjoyed travelling to were the fairs, held in many cities over Britain.
This is one place where ‘Punch and Judy’ shows were often performed. The fairs were a major source of income for the people that ran them. They attracted herds of people from all classes; from well-heeled, bourgeois businessmen to cheapjacks, pickpockets and prostitutes. The atmosphere of the fairs has been described as, “exciting, explosive and often menacing and violent” (Cameron, David, p1).
‘Punch and Judy’ was a seen as “public show” and so everyone was invited and there was virtually no segregation. This was quite unusual for the Victorians as there had always been a strong class divide. The ‘Punch and Judy’ show represented shared pleasure amongst all classes.
Everyone that came to the fairs, no matter what class, dressed in their finest clothes. They wanted to look their best for their special day out. Crowds and crowds came flocking in to be entertained and overjoyed by the rides and performances. It is believed that even geese came to the fairs! One theory is that Nottingham’s fair was eventually called Nottingham’s Goose Fair due to vast numbers of geese, “in fine flocks from the stubbles from miles around” (Cameron, David p132) were attracted to the fair over many years. Perhaps it was all the food left out?
(Insert picture from book, ‘The English Fair’, p132)
At these fairs there were a variety of shows and spectacles, from
In London last week and saw a traditional but they are not used in the same way as they were with the Victorians as we have become used to old technologies and so it has lost the excitement for many people.
The seaside was another destination were a ‘Punch and Judy’ show would have been found. The seaside was also a holiday resort for the Victorians; many people chose to spend their holidays here. Scarborough, Whitby, Brighton and Blackpool are amongst some of the “leisure capitals” and beach destinations that were very popular and many still are today. Many of which have their original Victorian features in place and in use.
As well as ‘Punch and Judy’ shows other entertainment was available, such as donkey riding, to keep everyone happy.
(Pictures of some of these destinations and Victorian features eg, Whitby with donkeys etc)
(pictures of huts on beach)
Structure of Set
(insert picture from World of Puppets p20)
There are many variations of ‘Punch and Judy’ set design however they all have the following features in common;
The set of a ‘Punch and Judy’ replicates a traditional theatre set but on small scale.
(Insert picture of theatre from ‘A Concise History of the Theatre’ p108-109)
This is a very large-scale stage, elaborately decorated.
( next to/ under this image insert a picture of a ‘Punch and Judy’ set to show similarities)
The body of a ‘Professor’ is hidden behind a material made from velvet that is soft to the touch, which is wrapped around a wooden square framed structure. The Professor is hidden here so as the audience can imagine that the puppets are real living creatures and not just controlled by a human.
Decoration of Sets
Many of the sets were decorated with red and white stripes or sometimes red and yellow. Why is this?
Or perhaps it was influenced by the deck chairs on the beach.
Picture of deck chair
The colours used on the sets were very bright and bold, such as cadmium red combined with a rich yellow and sky blue. One can see these colours used in Victorian advertising and decoration
(insert some photos below for examples)
The shows performed as though they are for children but I think that the content is really meant for adults. All the reference points and influences for the show (see section 1. Origins) are from mature and adult material such as Commedia dell’arte, which was theatre purely meant for an adult audience.
The shows contain much violence and many bad lessons that parents would not like to teach their children. However, hitting your child was much more acceptable for the Victorians for example, a teacher was allowed to hit a pupil when they had misbehaved. It would not have been so shocking for young children to see. This was just how society was at that time.
The Victorians were very open-minded in some ways but in others they were very prudish. For example they were very accepting of the violence used in the Punch and Judy shows yet when it came to getting changed on the beach they needed special bathing chambers and clothes that were unrevealing.
(Insert picture of the bathing machine used at Margate, p108, The English Fair)
These were used in the smarter of the resorts. You were able to take a bathing machine from the top of the beach and could then be wheeled down to the water’s edge. Then with the power of one or two strong men would help you take an stimulating plunge into the sea.
Yet, postcards that were made and very popular in the Victorian times were quite vivacious and naughty. Some showed violent scenes and others show their surreal sense of humour.
The Victorians had a real mix of characteristics. On the one hand they were very cautious and sensible but on the other they are
Here are some examples
(insert pictures of postcards from a ‘A Pennyworth of Art’, ‘Fantasy Postcards’ and some from my own collection such as “If you visit here I’ll give you the glad eye.”)
These postcards have been an immense source of inspiration for me. If I am ever stuck for ideas I look through these collections and usually ideas come to me (touch wood!).
Many shows were also shown on the beach. This attracted yet more crowds to the beaches for their holidays.
A single puppeteer, known as a Professor, traditionally performed the ‘Punch and Judy’ show. A famous Professor that was well known amongst puppeteers was Professor Green.
(Insert image p29 “A Pennyworth of Art”)
Sometimes in the shows they used live animals to interact with the puppets as you can see in this show by Professor Green. One show in the 17th century, Mr Punch is known to have danced with a trained pig.
A technique of puppetry, which was adapted for the ‘Punch and Judy’ shows, was called ‘Picklehaering’ or translated to English is ‘pickle herring’. This is where the hand is put inside the puppet, thereby moving the body, head and arms. This technique was from a Germany puppet show made in 1744 by Frisch called “Meister Haemmerlain”.
(Place in pic of pickle herring + hands)
Another device the Professor would have used was a swazzle. This device is put into the mouth to make a strange noise, similar to the sound of a kazoo. This was used to make the weird noises of the characters in Punch and Judy. I think this may have been used to detachand distort the puppeteers voice from the puppet. This is so the audience imagine the puppet is its own character rather than just having a human voice.
However, some people are able to produce a brilliantly clear voice for Punch without the use of a Swazzle. One advantage is clarity but this without the use of the swazzle lacks the hard rasp of a swazzle-produced voice and also the ear-splitting trumpet-like quality of the noises that an enraged Punch emits.
(Picture of a kazoo)
(Picture of a swazzle)
Here is how to make a swazzle of your own
(Insert images and construction by Richard Landon)
One could have even attended a ‘Swazzle Clinic Workshop’ at Puppet Fest 2005 at Concordia University, Minnesota State Capito, USA with Glyn and Mary Edwards.