Punch and Judy Live

Okay, I have to admit it. I have another life. A life outside books. It involves a lot of other people and a huge cast of puppets.

In my other life, I’m in love with Mr Punch. As gross, violent and irreverent as he may be, there is something simply irresistible about Punch.

Maybe it’s the fact that he is around 400 years old – which puts him way ahead of your run-of-the-mill vampire. Maybe it’s all his alter egos that add to his appeal – Pulcinella in Italy, Kasper in Germany, Jan Klaassen in the netherlands and Mester Jakel in Denmark. In Russia he is known as Petrushka, in Romania he is Vasilache; in Hungary, László, and in France Polichinelle, while all across the English speaking world he is loved, loathed and reviled as Mr Punch.

I’m not alone in loving Punch. He has a grip on the imaginations of millions, including author Neil Gaiman whose book Punch : The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy references the comic puppet show and a tragic reality. But within the construct of the puppet show, Mr Punch is the absolute antithesis of a tragic figure.

Andy Griffiths, who understands more about humour than anyone I know and is also a fan of Punch, explained that what kids love in a comic character is the character’s inability to learn, that the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is that the hero of the tragedy sees the error of his ways. The comedic hero never learns.

Kids love the fact that Mr Punch never changes. They know he is wrong about everything. They are deliciously scandalised by his behaviour; when he gets away with throwing away the baby, knocking the policeman on the head and tricking the devil. He is about as far removed from a moral paragon as you can find in fiction – which is why adults worry that he is a bad role model. But no child wants to emulate Mr Punch. They do love laughing at him. Perhaps it’s an added pleasure for them to realise they’re morally superior to Mr Punch. Even though they’re still kids and everyone is telling them how to behave, they’re way ahead of Punch.

This Sunday, 23 August, my better half, the puppeteer and Punch Professor, Ken Harper will be staging three Punch performances at Northcote Town Hall. If you’ve never seen Mr Punch live, you haven’t lived! Tickets will be available at the door.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never completely disappears.”

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