Get Punch out of the box

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Raise the curtain

At the 6th Puppet Theatre Festival Lübeck, three plays in the evening programme deal with the reinvention of traditional hand puppetry and thus also look at current transformation processes in society.

“When I started puppet theatre, I didn’t want to be a puppeter. I wanted to be an artist.”

Frieder Kräuter soon realised that the two are not mutually exclusive. After 35 years, he is now hanging up his puppet ensemble, at least full-time. But not without going on tour once again with a Punch and Judy play, which he will also perform at the Puppet Theatre Festival in Lübeck.

With “Kasperblues – Liebe, Schnaps und Rebellion” (Punch and Judy Blues – Love, Booze and Rebellion), he and his puppet theatre Gugelhupf from the Black Forest combine the time-honoured fairground Punch and Judy as the root of puppet theatre with the blues, which is generally regarded as the root of modern music from hip-hop to heavy metal. For Kräuter, both work in their basic form in the past as they do today. What some would call primitive, the Punch and Judy player calls reduced and thus versatile.

The Punch and Judy story is quickly told: Without further ado, this little anarchist has been thrashing his way through fairs and stages every evening for 150 years. The earthly authorities are beaten up and even death and the devil are not spared.

The fact that this guy can cope with absolutely all opponents throughout the years leaves the audience with a good feeling.

In “Kasperblues”, the hero is thus not confronted with a dissatisfied audience, but rather with a grumpy ensemble that has come to loathe the same roles over and over again. Of course, it is the devil who hatches an intrigue and instigates the rebellion. With a lot of rhythm and musicality, Frieder Kräuter chases through the old and new world of Punch and Judy remaining true to it’s roots. He is pleased that three Punch and Judy plays are on the programme as part of the Puppet Theatre Festival: “For a long time, only a few did that – now some remember those times.”

Archetype or already a hologram?

For Christiane Klatt of Puppen etc., the fairground Punch is not so out of keeping with the present day. Don’t they represent the greedy, narcissistic figures that many people still like to identify with in the 21st century? In particular, digitalisation and its effects on society and puppet theatre have preoccupied her for 15 years now. In her current play, PLING! Kasper mach(t) das Licht an, analogue and digital worlds collide just as brutally as Kasper swings the plank. “In film, we have now arrived at the five-second cut. I wanted to know if it was possible to depict this dynamic with my analogue art,” explains the puppeteer from Berlin.

The starting point is a modern Faust story, because out of the Punch and Judy ensemble, the devil is given the role of the pupeteer who wants to establish nothing other than a digital dictatorship – on an entirely voluntary basis. All the stereotypical characters from Kasper to Gretel to the grandmother are lured with the promises of the new system and picked up at their needs. It smells of individuality, of likes and recognition, of advancement in the digital caste system.

“Many funny situations arise, but sometimes the laughter gets stuck in your throat”,

says christiane Katt

The play is also intended as food for thought. It asks whether, with our constant presence on the internet and the compulsion to share our personal experiences, we are voluntarily placing ourselves in a new state of dependance. But it is also a very personal examination by the artist regarding the question of what kind of theatre one is allowed to make and wants to make. Perhaps it is also just a modest request to take a break in all the rapid development in order to be able to think about it at all.

Gretel instead of quota

The makers of the Blaues Haus Theatre in Krefeld have indeed taken their time, because for several years their current play had nothing more than a name. But it was just too good not to make a play out of it. In a lively evening discussion about a ubiquitous erotic romance series, the idea for “Fifty Shades of Gretel” was born. In exchange with director René Linke, Stella Jabben and Volker Schrills developed a backstage comedy with depth. The basis here is also the classic Kasper ensemble with its German prototypes. The audience is confronted in particular with the figures behind the roles. There is the old white man, rather flat and boorish, who is used to making the announcements. The robber is a revolutionary type, the grandmother is now demented and the relationship of the ageing couple Kasper and Gretel has also seen better times.

Gretel takes the sceptre and wants to make the dusty Punch and Judy show successful again

While the theatre halls are still empty, Gretel decides to take action and tries to convince the others to bring this particular erotic bestseller to the stage. Turbulent and funny, that’s what it’s all about in the end,

“solving problems together and not retreating into a corner despite all the differences”,

Volker Schrills sums up

Development works when everyone moves a little and yet does not lose themselves. The three Punch and Judy plays that enrich the Lübeck Puppet Theatre Festival this autumn have made very different stories out of an archetypal narrative, broken down stereotypes and yet reconnected the threads to their origins. They also contribute to this year’s motto of the festival, ALLEIN ist kein SEIN (ALONE IS NOT A WAY TO BE), because where Punch and Judy is written, there is always a whole ensemble behind.

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