I am a professional street Punch showman. I began working in Covent Garden in 1992, also on Leicester Square, South Bank and principal cities within a two hour drive from London. I now work mainly in my community in north London. I am not paid a fee for this work. I rely on a collection taken during the show by my collector and outside-man, Ian Carter. I also perform internationally at a wide variety of venues both under contract and busking.
The play is not text based, it consists of comic and tragic episodes; events that happen to Punch on the road. I perform in London to large multi-lingual crowds, often with a very high level of ambient sound. I do not use amplification. Punch is able to pronounce almost any word and conduct a conversation. He is also a very good singer.
Each working day I give four to six presentations, or three and a half to four hours work. Performance times vary between a few minutes and one hour, depending on many factors. I pay my outside-man 30% of the collection after our expenses. His role is crucial to the success of the show. He unites the crowd, links them to the show, provides security and collects money. This is a very skilled job. Street Punch can be a health and safety issue for a number of reasons.
I first saw Punch as a child on a beach in the South of England. My show grows from that experience. I tune my swazzel to the sound I remember from that day. It was a professional show performed by Frank Edmonds. Everyone was expected to pay, and they did.
In 1969 I was able to buy a set of figures made by Fred Tickner. I still use them today. Throughout my life in the dramatic theatre as a performer, technician and designer, I would perform Punch when there was no other theatre work, always at paid venues, never in the street. This was easy work. Punch is very strong: all English people know and love him. I developed a friendly family puppet show.
In 1992 I became a full time street showman. I discovered that there is a fundamental difference between being paid for a children’s birthday party and earning a day’s wages for two men, in the street. I’ve heard it said that “a Punch show is an excuse to ask people for money” – I agree! London is a hard city; people don’t visit the West End to give us money. We have to take it from them. A street show must have a hard edge and a dark side to succeed with a sophisticated crowd.
London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. 35 million people pass through Covent Garden each year. I am, therefore, very experienced at engaging large audiences of all ages and nationalities. Over thousands of performances, under the harsh conditions of the street, I have been forced to develop communication skills and ‘tricks’, unique to the profession and of ancient origin, in order to create a drama that is universal, or archetypal.
The most important element in achieving the ‘universal’ is reflection of the crowd. I have to step away from my ‘self ‘, no opinions, no age, no gender, no politics. The old showmen referred to themselves as “Punch workers” not puppeteers, they referred to Punch as a doll, or, figure; not a puppet, and I believe this is correct. We showmen work the Punch and the audience together with Punch create the drama. Gradually, in the reflective process, archetypes develop subconsciously and it feels as if the show runs itself. Over a long period the brain becomes a store of seemingly limitless ‘business’ and repartee, continually added to, used over and over, often at great speed, always in a new way and always with one aim; to give each individual a dramatic experience deep enough to justify asking them for money.
Aristotle said in his ‘Poetics’ that for a tragic play to succeed, the emotions “pity and fear” are essential. This has been my direct experience. I would add that for a comic tragedy, hunger, love and longing also seem to be essential emotions for a successful show. By successful I mean, of course, a show that makes money.
London September 2002