Don Cristóbal as seen at Skipton

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Don Cristóbal as seen at Skipton

Postby Chris » 25 Sep 2007, 16:14

The company, The Pelele Marionettes, is from France although the puppeteer, Pat Tatay, is Spanish. Perhaps that is why she chose to perform Don Cristóbal.

Don Cristobal is the nearest Spain has to a Punch figure. This character has nothing like the lineage of Punch, Polichinelle, Pulcinella, Petrouska and the rest of the gang. There is some dispute as to whether poet-dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca invented the character when he wrote The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal (Retablillo de Don Cristóbal) in 1931, or revived and popularised an existing character, a traditional trickster.

In the version brought to this festival Pat Tatay has used the basic character of Don Cristobal as painted by Lorca, but has devised her own story which has elements of the animated cartoon alongside Punch-style slapstick. She works hands above head, to good effect in the fight and chase scenes.

Don C is swazzled throughout, and very clearly. Even so there is little need of dialogue since the action is perfectly understood from the action and clever manipulation. The slapstick is brilliantly pointed by the use of a live musician Alice Lethagne who plays accordion, together with a wonderful array of noisemakers and sound effects - tinkling bells, ratchets, cymbals, bird warblers, rainsticks and the like.

Don C is a grotesque, avaricious old man version of Punch. The play opens with him gloating over two bags of gold. He kisses them, and then lies ontop and goes to sleep.

His chief protagonist is an old hag, his wife or housekeeper. Her aim is to have the gold herself and is quite prepared to kill Don C to achieve this.
There is lots of fun as she tries to steal the sacks from beneath the sleeping Don.

At one stage she keeps appearing behind him with a huge executioners' axe. But every time she swings it he, oblivious, moves to a different place.
Eventually she swings the thing so violently that it sinks deep into the playboard and is stuck, a situation which produces much laughter as she tries to free it.
<img src="images/headless.jpg" align="right">
Then Don C brings on a wooden chest in which to hide the bags of gold. But the old woman is not the only person after the treasure. The taxman arrives and presents Don C with a bill for two million. There follows a Punch-style counting routine with the bags. Finishing with Don C so incensed that he first twists the taxman's head back-to-front, then finally rips it off. There is some hilarious black humour as the crawling body seeks its head.

The old woman rigs up a weight and pulley booby trap to crush Don C - but manages to fall victim herself and ends up, cartoon style, flattened. Don C re-inflates her with a pump, and overdoes the job and she bobs around balloon-like.

She tries a bomb, and then finally decides to use poison. After bringing on a cauldron there is much fun as she tries to persuade a reluctant squid into the pot as she prepares Don C his favourite dish.

The poison apparently works and Death comes to claim him. There is much chasing, hitting and missing, and eventually Death brings on a coffin and tries to get Don C to lay in it. This is very much akin to the Jack Ketch sequence with the gallows. But although Death is tricked into laying in the coffin himself he jumps out there follows a very impressive slapstick fight - except Don C and Death are both equipped with very long bamboo staffs and they indulge in a splendidly choreographed fight routine.

Death gets bashed on the head, and to revive him Don C gives him whisky to drink - lots and lots of it. There is some very clever manipulation of the drunken Death staggering around, well observed and very funny.

Don C easily now persuades Death to rest in the coffin, where he falls into a drunken stupor. Gleefully he nails on the coffin lid. Death has been conquered. Dancing around in high glee Don C pulls the tabs closed.
<center>FINIS</center>

The show was very well manipulated and highly inventive. The sound effects and music added enormously to the show. But there was a lot of repetition and the sequences were rather too long for my taste and the show, at 50 minutes, would have been even better at half the length. But I would have been sorry to have missed it.
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Postby CvdC » 18 Dec 2007, 01:13

I just thought if I replied to this long lost posting it would pop back up to the top of the list and remind everyone of its existence.
While the interesting thing about English Punch is that it has varied so remarkably little over the years it is interesting to see it stretched out of alignment at times. It gives you a chance to consider the art of glove puppetry and the humour of the slapstick. Richard Coombs is a good example of this shifting the framework, as it were.
So when this little counterpoint to Punch was described I was very interested. And I will be interested to read Sean's translations too.
I think this sort of comparing has two benefits: You see more clearly that which is unique to the Punch and Judy show and you can see ways to enhance your own performance slightly. If you are doing a few shows a day perhaps one can be "different".
And then you can apply for a grant. :wink:
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Postby Tony James » 18 Dec 2007, 10:09

That was very interesting. I missed it first time around as I was away. It takes me back to when I started with Punch, out in Spain in the 70s. Spanish people used to refer to Punch not as Don Cristóbal but Cristóbillio.

I might not have spelled that correctly but it was pronounced Crist-o-bee-lee-o.

The following year when I flew in I was stopped at the airport with all my umpteen bags of props including Punch . One of the customs fellows opened a case of magic and sitting there were fifty sheets of flash paper which I had spread out across the top. He was bent over the case with a cigarette in his mouth and the longest length of ash you can imagine and I was stood fascinated, wondering if it would fall on the paper and how long I would get for blowing up a customs officer.

Another officer had opened the Punch case and said with a broad smile "Ah! Cristóbillio." And my fellow swung round, ash down his uniform and I quietly closed the case lid whilst he went across to put his hand up Mr Punch.

After that it was plain sailing but for a minute my heart had been in my mouth.

Just then
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Postby Chris » 18 Dec 2007, 11:41

I think something you might consider (Chris vdC) is the difference between a traditional form - such as Punch - who has changed and developed gradually and largely unintentionally, and a construct, such as Don Cristobal, who was invented by a playwrite, based upon Punch, to fill the gap of a non-existent tradition.
Then there is the third complication of some modern Pulcinella shows which have not developed from their own tradition but have borrowed from Punch. Most strange.
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Postby CvdC » 18 Dec 2007, 20:45

consider it considered Chris
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Postby johnstoate » 20 Dec 2007, 21:35

Eerrrr, - I know that this is me being me, But, Couldn't the same be said of Punch/Polcinelle Chris (S) ??? - What is the origin of any puppet play?? - I know we presume to give the owd red-nose a special place in history, But, Does that entitle us to make such sweeping distinctions as to what constitutes a Tradition, (Duck!) and what is merely a 'construct' - Surely Punch, (In his present form) is a construct?? - The version we use is very much based on scripts from Cruikshank and the like surely??
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Postby Chris » 20 Dec 2007, 22:16

So?
I didn't express any controversial opinion. In fact I didn't express any opinion at all. I simply pointed out some different categories.
What exactly is your point?
What don't you agree with?
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Postby CvdC » 20 Dec 2007, 22:25

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By way of example those who obtain a copy of Sean's new book may be inspired by this little routine which comes from a Polichinelle play.

This could be picked up and used with a Scaramouch type puppet.
"Finishing with Don C so incensed that he first twists the taxman's head back-to-front, then finally rips it off. There is some hilarious black humour as the crawling body seeks its head. "
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The Cask

Postby Sean Keohane » 20 Dec 2007, 23:23

A nice picture, Mr van der Craats. I think I've written elsewhere that your barrel and crocodile have been getting great reactions in performances of Le Tonneau, or The Cask, that I've been doing the past few months, including today... though the barrel is resting in the prop room for now, and the crocodile is popping out of a Christmas box.

Le Tonneau is by Louis Duranty, and I didn't do a translation for my book, as there's a very serviceable translation in Bil Baird's Art of the Puppet. Children seem to really enjoy it and its length can be varied, depending on the number of puppets you have, and how long you can prolong their interest!

I understand Chris' point about the Don Cristobal plays being an artificial construct. In that, they're somewhat similar to the Polichinelle (and other puppet plays) of Duranty, in that a literary figure felt inspired to write plays about the character, to serve his own artistic purposes. The Don Cristobal plays are probably a better example, as Duranty had seen many Polichinelle plays, and had access to older scripts... and many of the older Polichinelle scripts had been written by professional puppet playwrights, as opposed to puppeteers. (But the older plays were really written simply to be funny, while Duranty was trying other things as well.)

Of course, Guignol was created by a Polichinelle puppeteer who was trying new things, so one could say that Guignol is a construct, too-- and of course he is, and so is our Punch-- but the difference with Don Cristobal is that it seems the author was more concerned with his other goals than he was with putting together a funny working puppet show. I've seen two versions of Llorca's play in performance and know of another one in New York called The Billy-Club Man. (Tony, your reference to "Crist-o-bee-lee-o" reminded me of that.)

One version of Cristobal I saw was performed by a fellow who actually understood glove puppets, in a traditional Punch & Judy style booth. He gave a rollicking good show, even serving as his own one man band. In the second version, which I saw a few months ago at a mini-festival, 30 people danced about an enormous stage with a few rod puppets just off center, doing something which I suppose was lyrical and poetic, but looked clueless as to how a puppet show, at least a P&J style show, should be done, or even what it was supposed to be about. I felt at the time that the academics who had created the large stage show (with a grant, Chris vdC) had little knowledge of a glove puppet show and had probably not even seen anything like Punch & Judy.

The first show, though using Llorca's text, was alive and funny, and memorable. There were obvious puppet theatre jokes or references in the script that seemed to be lost on the producers of the large stage show, who used, and seemed to mis-interpret, the same text.

So Punch as we know him (and Guignol, and what is left of Polichinelle, and Pulcinella) are constructs, but they developed organically in the hands, literally, or people who actually performed with the puppets, as opposed to the artificial construct of Llorca's Don Cristobal, more of a literary creation.

The case of Louis Duranty's scripts is somewhat different... because Duranty had to be more practical in creating scripts that could actually be used in a real business (his outdoor theatre) and because he did know and love puppet plays... and also because he had been influenced both by Punch & Judy, which he "borrowed" from, as well as the pantomime stage at les Funambules. He drew his Pierrot puppet to look like his friend Paul Legrand, who was the leading Pierrot of the time, and he seems to have taken at least some of his plot ideas from vignettes of Legrand.

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Postby Chris » 21 Dec 2007, 00:22

I don't think you quite got my point Sean. It had nothing to do with Don Cristobal coming from a literary pen rather than a puppeteer's. I would put Don Cristobal firmly alongside Guignol.

Punch, Polichinelle, Pulcinella, Petrouska, Kasperl all have a lineage. There absolute origins are obscure, and there has been a deal of cross-pollination, but these puppets have evolved over time and at the hands of generations of performers. These are national puppets who have developed. Consider Punch, whatever his early incarnations, at one point was a regional clown of the Italian Commedia. He was only a favourite in Naples. From there he becomes more widely known and at some stage becomes a puppet. His puppet and live actor incarnations become known in France, and from France to the Russian Court and the English Fairground. By some alchemy he becomes absorbed into the folk art of each country and eventually by the mid 19th Century we have a very French Polichinelle, an unquestionably Russian Petrouska, and the out and out English Mr. Punch.

Nobody planned this, nobody even really decided to popularise one Commedia character over all others.

That is the idea I wanted to contrast with Don Cristobal, and Guignol. In both cases someone sat down and planned a puppet character, gave them a name and wrote a play. In Guignol's case they also designed the puppet.
These characters were deliberate artistic creations. They were man-made, and we know the names of their creators.

By contrast was not Punch made by the gods?
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Postby johnstoate » 21 Dec 2007, 01:26

I hate to be the one to ' Prick your bubble' on this one, Chris, But, NO, Punch is (Sadly) like all the rest, When performed before an audience of the Public, No less or more than a puppet, (And a glove puppet at that!) Albeit the best of the rest, but, nontheless, a puppet. The bit that counts is that he is a puppet with heritage, Punch is the one that hits all the buttons, The one people remember as THE puppet. We, the practitioners, do no more than ensure the continuation of the line, (Potential challenge ensues!) for those as wish to consider themselves Punchmen!
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Postby lesclarke » 21 Dec 2007, 13:13

I think of the Punch character as a clear personality type. All the associated heritage is great to have, but none of it is sacrosanct. The thing that must not change is the 'spirit' of Punch, as communicated via this projected personality.

Rather than this personality having been 'developed' I don't think it's too fanciful to say that it has ' evolved naturally ' over a considerable period of time, and this is why it has such power.
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Postby Chris » 21 Dec 2007, 15:43

To John and Les.
I am simply stating facts. There is a difference between something that has developed over centuries and had the input of multiple performers and audiences of many nationalities - and something that was created by one man.
I am not saying that one is better than the other.
I am not saying anything is sacrosanct.
I am simply pointing out a difference.
Please don't manufacture a controversy where there is none.
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Postby lesclarke » 21 Dec 2007, 20:24

I too see no room for controversy Chris, and don't see that I have encouraged any.

I fully accept your arguments, and believe Punch is in a way a part of our human evolution, in that it has very much evolved rather than been developed and by that process it is more in touch with and better reflects the basic human condition.

Also there's the potential for it to be even more than just 'very funny'!

Personally, I think much of it's interesting tradition is just that, often fascinating, but not sacrosanct. But I do believe that to mess about with the personality of Punch is pointless, as it's the Punch personality that is at the core of the Punch & Judy experience.
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Postby CvdC » 21 Dec 2007, 20:59

"Death gets bashed on the head, and to revive him Don C gives him whisky to drink - lots and lots of it. There is some very clever manipulation of the drunken Death staggering around, well observed and very funny. "
Now here is a bit of business that seems interesting. Tell me Chris, when you say lots and lots of it can you tell me how that was portrayed?
Did they have a big bottle? Did they keep popping down for another bottle?
I can imagine staggering about drunk being very funny and would make for ssome good visual puppetry.
I am going to make a small wooden bottle of wine for my Gnafron and I was thinking it may fit into a gourmet version of the Punch show. I wonder what wine would be appropriate with sausages?
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