In Monday’s post, I shared with you my childhood love of the theatre.
There’s a bit of me that still loves it. If I’m ever at the seaside or at a ‘Fun Day’* at our local park and there’s a Punch and Judy booth, you’ll see me gravitate towards it.
For those of you unaware of what Punch and Judy is, imagine a brightly coloured square tent, just tall and wide enough to hold one man – maybe two – like a little mobile theatre. A square hole in one wall of the tent acts as the stage and on the stage appear puppets.
Apart from the wildly unattractive, hook-nosed Punch (who’s usually dressed in red and yellow with a pointed hat – like a court jester), there’s his equally unattractive wife Judy, their baby, a policeman, a crocodile and strings of sausages Honestly, I’m not making it up – this madness is my heritage.
Most of the characters have shrill, insane voices that drill holes in your brain because the puppeteer has a reedy piece of metal in his mouth called a swazzle. They say you’re not a proper Punch and Judy man until you’ve swallowed several swazzles. And I say, you can’t say ‘swallowed several swazzles’ if you’ve been drinking.
The storylines mainly consist of domestic abuse, infanticide, assaulting police officers, being eaten by crocodiles… It’s subversive, very dark and has passed as fit entertainment for the under tens since its first recorded performance in the UK in 1662.
Anyway, even though the voices give me a headache and the nice liberal in me loathes the laughs derived from unbridled male-on-female violence (this guy ain’t no role model, people) I will always watch a little of a performance as I pass by. Part of me loves the tradition, the history of it – and what are we Brits without tradition – but a bit of me is drawn to the theatricality of it, the idea that the puppeteer is like a strolling player of old, carrying his stage on his back – or more likely these days in the back of his Ford Transit.
And then there’s conventional theatre. I’m lucky in that I live in a biggish city with some excellent theatres. At any one time, I could choose between Shrek the musical or Warhorse, performances of Handel’s Water Music, a challenging modern piece about female genital mutilation or an 18th century Restoration comedy in one of the country’s oldest surviving theatres … by candlelight.
And as I said in Monday’s post, I really do see the parallels between actors and writers.
Both disciplines must thoroughly know their characters, how they would speak, what they would say, how they’d react to a given situation or stimulus.
We have to channel other people who might be very different from us, have different life experiences with different tales to tell.
We have to give ourselves over to the process of living as someone else and hearing their voices in our heads.
Now, if all of this sounds frightening close to mental illness, then maybe it is.
But take comfort from the fact that authors are solitary beasts by nature, usually hidden away in their Writing Caves, barely seeing the light of day from one season to the next, communicating only through email or text. They are rarely allowed out of their Caves, and if they must, if some evil agent or publisher forces them blinking into the blinding brightness of the day to promote something at a signing or a book fair, they are usually outnumbered and can be easily overpowered as their limbs have been wasted through sitting at a desk all day.
Now, actors … I’d be much more worried about them if I were you.
*Beware of anything sold to you as ‘fun’ – it will be cheap, cheesy low-grade entertainment, often with a high humiliation factor (such as stag nights, hen dos, and anything that involves the removal of clothing). If ‘fun’ is prefaced with the word ‘harmless’, it will be neither harmless nor fun. Fun is for the under tens and possibly for those over seventy who behave like under tens.