The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

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Q. Kumber
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The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Q. Kumber » May 1st, 2020, 6:51 pm

Eighteen months ago Tim Bromage, a friend from Cardiff was visiting. He had never seen a Punch & Judy show. With just my hands I performed a short scene for him. He later mentioned it to a gallery director who asked if I would make a video of the show with no puppets and no booth. What I call, “Punch & Judy in the nude.”

Last August I went down to South Wales and at 7.30pm, on Penarth pier, me facing the sun, recorded the show, with the odd person passing by.

It was to be used as part of a gallery arts exhibition, the video of me gesticulating playing mute on a screen looked odd but when you pressed a button you got the sound and all became clear.

I had forgotten about it until yesterday when Tim sent me a link to Vincent Gambini's blog. I’m quoting his words here for completeness as his article raises some questions about the performance of magic, and should this thread develop, it will be helpful as a reference. I've only spoken to Vincent briefly twice, though I have twice seen his one hour show for small audiences (up to 40, normally at arts centres or universities). His magic is strong, mixing first rate sleight of hand with engaging and somewhat perverse presentations. The best one-hour parlor sleight-of-hand magic show I've seen. His blog is well worth checking out. Link at the end.
The Effort of Effortlessness

I recently had a short chat with theatre maker Tim Crouch, who was advocating the possibility of a magic performance that would fully reveal the mechanics behind it, giving up the mystique of virtuosity (which Crouch distrusts) in favour of an approach where spectators and magician are genuinely on the same page.

Where is magic at, in the ongoing discussion around ‘revelation’? Are magicians forever bound to jealously guard their precious secrets, like deluded Gollums scuttling off behind a rock to play with the latest store-bought gimmick, or are there interesting, innovative and generous ways of opening magic up to spectators? Is revelation always a case of ‘breaking’ magic, or are there in fact ways of sharing the method that enable better appreciation, sophisticated and nuanced understandings?

Enter Tim Bromage’s frankly stunning video piece ‘The Lord of Misrule’, a single-take of magician and children’s entertainer Quentin Reynolds executing a Punch and Judy sketch without any puppets or ‘set’. Standing on Penarth peer, facing the camera, Reynolds lifts his hand in the air, performing the requisite movements and the stunning voices of the characters, honed to perfection after countless performances. The voice of Punch, in particular, stands out for its ethereal ‘buzz’, as though it were coming through a kazoo.
Here we really do see a whole Punch and Judy act, despite the absence of the puppets and set. And we 'see’ the show, I think, for 3 reasons: because the hands are puppets in their own right; because the dexterous voices and impeccably timed dialogue effectively create the show in our minds; and because, to a greater or lesser extent, viewers come to this already knowing what a Punch and Judy act is. It is a startling example of how a ‘bare’ or stripped back presentation can work beautifully, relying on the imagined presence of objects and characters that we already know.

Are we here watching an ‘exposed’ view of the show - the backstage mechanics if you will? Perhaps. Though it also strikes me that once the ‘front’ is removed (the small theatre, the puppets, and, crucially, a participating live audience), what we’re watching is something like the labour that allows the show to exist. Think of it as watching the ‘muscle’, expanding and contracting, the singer’s larynx. In other words, we get to see the effort that goes into the production of effortlessness, and this a generous offering from both Bromage and Reynolds.

What is also striking about the piece is the camera (by Roger Graham), and the commitment to a frontal presentation, which mimics a theatrical ‘static’ front: other than the camera cutting to a closer shot 1 minute in, there are no changes or edits. This refusal to move the camera or provide alternative angles (as you’d expect a work like this to do, showing different sides, zooming on the face, cutting to focus on the reaction of passersby, etc) is partly what allows the performance to be so compelling: the framing insists on showing the work for what it really is, as though saying: here it is, here is all there is, the contortions that register as grace, the hard graft that produces the easy-going spectacle.

To return to the discussion of magic and secrets. Magicians like to the believe that surprise, laughter and comments such as ‘how did you do that? That’s impossible!’ are a clear indication that reason and logic have been defied, leading spectators to a pure childlike state of blissful wonder. I don’t want to deny for a second the sense of enchantment, of course. But the idea that audience members are entirely unaware of the mechanics of the show is, to put it mildly, questionable.

What if spectators were in fact a lot more privy to what is actually going on in magic tricks, than magicians tend to believe? And, following from that, what if enchantment could actually be enhanced, or approached differently - through revelation and disclosure, sharing the secret, the mechanism, displaying the effort of effortless illusion?

This is what ‘The Lord of Misrule’ is able to capture so well: the enchantment of seeing the mechanism, the mysterious appeal of dexterity and virtuosity. As though revelation itself were, in fact, simply another mystery.

The video work, which was commissioned by G39 Gallery, is currently available to view through LADA screens.

Vincent Gambini blog:

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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby AJM » May 1st, 2020, 7:44 pm

Brilliant performance Quentin.

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Richard Kaufman » May 1st, 2020, 8:04 pm

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Jack Shalom
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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Jack Shalom » May 1st, 2020, 8:35 pm

That was fantastic. Thank you. How could children of all ages not be entertained by that?

Quentin, how much of that script is traditional? Would any Punch and Judy show have basically the same script--or just the familiar characters? I'm recalling shows I've seen with maybe more marital material between Punch and Judy?

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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Joe Lyons » May 1st, 2020, 9:54 pm

Fascinating. Great show.


Max Maven
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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Max Maven » May 1st, 2020, 11:07 pm

Quite wonderful, Quentin.

I have always found it perversely charming that such traditional British children’s entertainment is built around a sociopathic protagonist.

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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Jonathan Townsend » May 1st, 2020, 11:11 pm

Thanks for sharing the link to the film. Fine film! The performance was engaging both watching the performer and imagining the puppets. It was also interesting to watch the performer's face and eyes - for example when he was working with one eye or both open.

Not sure who'd enjoy watching a film where the "how to" is stripped bare for the viewers without letting them at least enjoy being deceived at first. For example Richard Wiseman makes short films where you get to enjoy the trick before seeing how it happened. There's something about trickery in magic that distinguishes it from the other performing arts. For trickery itself; consider the three shell game and imagine that with three clear shells. Once you know where something is not (the pea) there's no line of action to follow and nothing to engage. You're not imagining the pea under a shell since you can see there's nothing under the shell. Magic seems a short con with some fuss in the preparation and no payoff beyond the audiences appreciation of their own ability to be deceived. Observing the trickery itself is uninteresting. The pea is held in place as the shells move around. Yawn. The remark from Seneca about harmless quibbles still applies today.

We have additional layers of willing deception in the magic market about paying for secrets and believing myths. Within the magic market we can admire ad copy and still buy product. Odd ethos but it's what we have. Perhaps it would be more sensible to look at how audiences would respond to ventriloquist acts which use pre-recorded voices rather than the vocal skill - or juggling accomplished via remote controlled props rather than the presumed realtime skill.

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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Edward Pungot » May 2nd, 2020, 2:40 am

Primal Therapy.
Primal Wonder.
Thank you.

Q. Kumber
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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Q. Kumber » May 2nd, 2020, 4:56 am

Thank you everyone for the kind comments. I truly appreciate them.

To answer a couple of questions/observations. I was directly facing the evening summer sun which resulted in excessive squinting.

Traditionally the script is longer with more characters such as the devil, the ghost and the hangman and the show would last thirty minutes or more. The show in the video, in normal circumstances and with a live audience interacting with the puppets would be 18 - 20 minutes.

The basic show, as I do it was taught to me by Eric Sharp. In 1957, a retired London pro, Rex Daina, moved to South Wales where Eric lived.
Rex was a society entertainer on the books of Harrod's and Hamley's. Rex did magic, Punch, Vent and Living Marionettes. He himself, as a young man had been taught Punch by an old Victorian/Edwardian Punch worker. Rex taught Eric and in 1958, Eric started performing on the beach in Porthcawl. Eric cut the show to 20 minutes but had about ten minutes of business beforehand to pull the crowd.

Performing four shows a day meant you needed different episodes to get the audiences to return, so while the basic story remained, he had extra episodes that could be slotted in such a the traditional boxing match and ones he developed himself. Eric emphasised to me that it is an action show and should not be slowed down with too much dialogue.

The show in the video would be basically what Eric and I called the Number One show, not because it was necessarily the best, but performed for the audience seeing you for the first time. I have five different Punch shows.

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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby DanZ » May 2nd, 2020, 7:33 am

Thanks Quentin. A rare wonder.

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Zig Zagger
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Re: The Lord of Misrule or Punch & Judy in the Nude

Postby Zig Zagger » May 2nd, 2020, 12:07 pm

Max Maven wrote:I have always found it perversely charming that such traditional British children’s entertainment is built around a sociopathic protagonist.

An apt yet somewhat harsh description of magic and many magi... :lol:
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