Punch and Judy

Mon 18th August 2014


Jeremy Barclay

at 21:47 on 18th Aug 2014



During my stay at the Edinburgh Fringe so far, I have seen funny things and moving things, surprising things and shocking things – I’ve even seen disappointing things. But not until Wireless Theatre’s Couples That Changed the World: Punch and Judy had I seen a boring thing. Wireless Theatre have made the bold but unexciting move of staging a radio show with no visual theatrical frills.

The cast of voice actors, whose voices mimic those from the educational tapes your teacher would put on in classes when she had forgotten her lesson plan, attempt to educate the audience on Punch’s meteoric rise to fame over 352 years. The immediate selling point of this show seems to be the promise of revealing the techniques behind the recording of live radio plays – a riveting enough promise to make - but the techniques used are never impressive enough to make up for the fact that radio is not meant for the stage. Many of the sound effects are pre-recorded anyway.

A leaflet passed out to each audience member before the show encourages you to ‘close your eyes sometimes’, presumably so that you can simulate the warm experience of sitting around the wireless listening to the shipping broadcast. I would not recommend this unless you have been struggling to sleep lately, as the poorly chosen subject matter is so dull it could be used to tranquilize a rhinoceros on heat.

Punch and Judy, a warm memory for children who were raised before the Internet was a thing, is an inherently visual show that simply does not translate into the radio format. Instead all we are left with is Punch’s irritating voice and the sound of slapstick comedy being followed by the silence of a bemused audience. Perhaps Wireless Theatre are misfortunate with their audience who are reluctant to join in with the pantomiming requests from the cast, and unresponsive to its appeals to nostalgia.

Wireless Theatre has all the benefits awarded to radio performers, including having their scripts out in front of them. Unforgivably, lines are still forgotten, meaning that they often start again and completely obliterate any sense of performance. There are some redeeming moments from the cast, especially from James Parkes, who provides an eclectic and polished collection of characters.

This educational yet unremarkable play will interest you at first, but after twenty minutes will have you searching the waves for another station.


Kate Wilkinson

at 22:32 on 18th Aug 2014



I can truly say that Wireless Theatre’s Couples Who Changed the World is like nothing else you will see at the Fringe. This is partly because I don’t think there are many other radio show recordings going on but mainly because there is far less seeing and a lot more hearing involved in a radio show recording than a production. It was an unusual experience.

Although the audience is meant to be a valued element, supplying the show with applause, laughter and general crowd noises, it feels better suited to Granddad’s crackly radio on a quiet Sunday afternoon than onstage at the busy Fringe.

The company record a different original radio play each performance, about influential historical couples. My fellow reviewer and I were treated to Punch and Judy, though it’s really all about Punch. I can see how the children’s slapstick duo makes for varied aural material what with Punch’s distinctive high-pitched burr and the frequent whacking slapping noise.

Unfortunately, listening to the puppet show’s history for an hour is a bit yawn-worthy at best, achingly tedious at worst. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn a handful of half interesting facts such as Punch’s original Italian name, ‘Pulcinella’, which literally means ‘Stupid chicken’. I also didn’t know that Punch was originally a part played by actors but transferred to the part of a puppet because they don’t need to be paid. Ultimately it’s quite a niche topic and for me, the hour dragged. Looking at the company’s other dates I imagine I would have found other Couples Who Changed the World, such as Stephen and Tabitha, more engaging.

The show is structured as an interview between Tears Gorgan and Punch who described the main moments of his history. The voice actors are enthusiastic and try to breathe life into the dry material. They provide a range of sounds and voices through a range of techniques such as the small mouth device known as a swazzle to produce Punch’s strange voice. Although the voice actors are generally slick and professional, many lines are carelessly fluffed-up which significantly marrs the fluidity of the show.

In all, I have mixed feelings about this show. As a producer of educational podcasts, Wireless Theatre is perfect, but in the context of a Fringe show, it doesn’t work. Given that this specific radio play won’t be repeated, there seems little point in me telling you not to see it. I cannot vouch for the other plays of Wireless Theatre’s run. But if they are as dry as this one, it won’t matter how good the production is.


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