We said on previous occasions that the world of Punch is booming. Every day there are more and more Professors practicing the Punch and Judy show, as the celebration of the last Big Grin demonstrated, and the health of British hero is stronger than ever. But the most curious is that also resideing in Barcelona a Profressor, from Dublin. Ronan Tully recently acted in the Casa-Taller de Marionetas de Pepe Otal. His show dazzled the audience, who cheered and applauded. Furthermore, Jesus Atienza photographer was present with his camera in the room. We thought it was a perfect occasion to dedicate this report to him.
– Ronan, could you explain your origins as a puppeteer?
– Yes, I am a third generation puppeteer, I started performing when I was 6 years old, my grandfather began performing as a child also, he came from a small village on the Atlantic coast of Ireland and learned to become a ventriloquist from Books, By the 1950’s he played regularly in Cabaret and the Music Halls, performing with artists such as “Bill Haley and the comets” and “Laurel and Hardy”. He had 10 children and working together as a family they had 3 consecutive television shows with puppets that were on Television in Ireland from 1963 to 1995! My family built and founded the only puppet theatre in Ireland in 1970, which still is running to this day. Whilst Ireland has a very old and proud history of puppetry it had all but died out by the time my grandfather started.
My grandfather was a very hard worker, throughout the 1960’s he was playing day and night for children and adults alike sometimes up to 3 different performances a day. Punch and Judy, string marionettes and ventriloquism, as well as the television work.
– Did your family perform Punch and Judy?
– Whilst Irish puppeteers were instrumental in the development of Punch and Judy in the 17th Century, like Dublin Puppeteer Martin Powell who opened a famous satirical punch & Judy Theatre in London in 1710. By my grandfathers era puppetry had all but disappeared in Ireland. My grandfather bought his first Punch and Judy set from a retiring magician, they were very traditional English style puppets, he played for Birthday parties in the beginning whilst working in Cabaret at night-time.
Now in Ireland there are really only two “professional” punch and Judy puppeteers left, my uncle – Conor Lambert, and Myself (and I live in Catalunya now!). I am the only one who uses the traditional “Swazzle”. There are several children’s magicians who also do Punch and Judy for birthday parties but I don’t see this as professional puppetry as in general it is used to fill up time and not seen for the skill and art it requires to do it well…
– What is the difference between British and Irish Punch and Judy?
– Irish people and English people are very different in personality, I think that is the main difference, whilst my uncle and myself have very different shows we both have a dark, satirical and improvised Irish sense of humour. We talk directly to the audience in a different way, also as Irishmen we have no ties to the “traditional Rules” of Punch and Judy which frees us to do more with it. You would never call an Irish performer a “professor” like they do in the Uk.
My show is different in rhythm also from the British tradition, I play with Irish Music (usually a live musician) and so that changes the whole dynamic of the show. And my puppets are quite different in design to the British, it’s not an Irish thing but a choice I made myself to create a smaller puppet for better movement and more agility.
In Britain over the centuries the Punch and Judy has manly become very sanitized and “correct”. I have brought back many old characters that had disappeared and used the earliest scripts from the 17th and 18th centuries to formulate my own version. Also I don’t hold back or censor the violent aspect as that’s the real tradition, it is no more violent then Tom and Jerry cartoons however. I do also do an adult version which is a little stronger then the family version.
– I believe you live in Barcelona for Family reasons. Are there any other motives that specifically interest you in the city?
– I live in Barcelona with my Catalan partner Helena de Sola, who is also a puppeteer, we have a larger Circus show together with an Irish Musician – Malachy Bourke, which I built over the last 2 years here in a great artist run collective in Poble Nou, it is a fully working 25 seat circus tent, lined with velvet in a 19th century style. The show is about a dysfunctional family of puppeteers (something I have a lot of experience with). The tent is made fully with traditional materials and takes a day to build in each location. We premiered it last summer on tour in Ireland where we performed 65 times. We will be playing in Catalunya later this year.
Good luck on your Catalan adventure with puppets!