The headlines scream ‘local council bans Mr Punch’ and the Punch community wring their hands in despair as another potential ‘fair paying booking’ is likely to disappear.
Mr Punch was born on the streets. His audience consisted of the downtrodden, much abused, poor street folk. It is no surprise that Charles Booth, in his enquiry into the lives of the London Labour and London Poor (of the 1890s) devoted 20 pages to Mr Punch, his operator and cast. Mr Punch, much as Private Eye and Spitting Image subsequently, holds up a mirror to society’s ills, woes and daily strife. This is why the traditional hanging scene played so well, it resonated with its audience’s experiences. Felons could be hung for stealing a lamb, as well as a sheep, as well as a loaf of bread. The populous of London needed a relief and Mr Punch fulfilled that need admirably.
With the seemingly apparent short-fall in support from officialdom, even in this post Brexit ‘take the knife out and stick it in again’ fair world in which we live, where us Brits continue to: either turn a blind eye, forgive and forget, hail free speech and the democratic right of the individual, can Mr Punch survive if those who pay for his services, also fund the most needed of social services?
Does this remove the grit from the oyster and pull Mr Punch’s teeth – leaving him reliant only on gags and soft, silly humour? If your idea of entertainment is watching a show that exists purely to encourage the sort of interaction: “… my name’s Judy…what’s my name?” then are you guilty of perpetuating Mr Punch’s demise?
However, with the fall from a council’s grace, will Mr Punch return to his roots and offer something more akin to a proper dramatic performance, one with a natural, logical progression from beginning to end?
Have you seen parents pull their children away at the end of a show just because The Devil appears? Played well this can be the best part of a show, one where the audience reacts most vocally and interactively.
It is, after all, where ‘good’ emerges triumphant, evil is defeated, the audience’s sympathies are in tune with the action and Mr Punch is forgiven his past misdeeds – Judy returns to lead the street folk with three rousing cheers for our hero and balance is restored to the natural order of things.
Who’s left crying in the night?