The sight of striped puppet booth on the beach of UK seaside resorts holding the promise of a Punch and Judy show has been a common one for many years. But the origins of Mr Punch, as we know him in Britain, go back much further than that. Named Pulcinella, he was part of Italy's Commedia dell'arte in the 18th century though the unbridled hook nosed, hunch back character existed on stage a century before.
He’s been adopted by various countries across the globe and in France Polichinelle is his given name. And it’s this méchant, or wee wick as we would say in Lowland Scotland, that Estelle Charlier and Romauld Collinet have brought to the manipulate Festival 2017.
Following some 1930’s Palm Court music, the two puppeteers introduce themselves and let the audience know that the show will be performed in French and in what Collinet calls his “bad English”. (Not true!) The Scottish gigs have been subtly and suitably adapted to include whisky drinking to mention of haggis neeps and tatties. Once the smattering of French speakers in the audience are flattered to be on board, he then slaps them down Poli style by speaking as fast as a TGV! Superbe - un vrai méchant!
Collinet continues to break the 4th wall (or in this case the front flap of the striped booth!) in between some masterful puppeteering with Charlier, complete with swazzly voice, as the dark, cruel and scary (for some) ingredients of the already familiar narrative are presented with more than a soupçon of French sauce.
As well as Polichinelle himself, there is his equally feisty Dame Gigogne, known in UK as Judy, but instead of the one unfortunate Baby who gets battered with impunity in the British version, they have 22 children who are left perpetually hungry. There is the also the sausage stealing dog; the Policeman; the Hangman and a new character of the Chicken, after whom the original Pulcinella took his name, all of whom are at the receiving end all Poli’s ubiquitous stick throughout.
The diabolically naughty Polichinelle laughs in the face of Death but in this show he has three versions to contend with - despair disease and anger – whose macabre antics make for great hilarity as they brilliantly reference slapstick films and cartoons. This is glorious anarchy that rightly invokes whoops and cheers not least for being superb example of top class hand puppeteering. Who wouldn’t want to laugh in the face of death even if it’s just by farting?
Above the stage of the booth are the words ‘te fabula narratur’ which mean ‘this story is about you’ and if the adults who gathered to be entertained in Traverse 2 are anything to go by, they agreed as they got on board as eagerly as though they were kids kneeling on the sand with an ice cream cone.
Poli Dégaine, that premiered 9 years ago and performed over 800 times from Europe to the Far East, has indeed drawn his cheeky 21st century sword in fine style. This show brings a ‘Punch’ who is all he should be and much more - cheeky, sexy, funny and outrageous. ‘That’s the way to do it!’
30 January 2017, 9pm. Age recommend 6+