The stimulus we were given to look at was the play 'Too Much Punch for Judy', written in 1987 by British playwright, Mark Wheeller. Mark Wheeller

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Too Much Punch for Judy : Portfolio 2


The stimulus we were given to look at was the play ‘Too Much Punch for Judy’, written in 1987 by British playwright, Mark Wheeller. Mark Wheeller was born in 1958 and grew up in Bristol. He began writing plays during his schooldays and now ‘Too Much Punch for Judy’ is one of the most performed plays ever, having toured schools, colleges, prisons, army camps and the workplace, both here and abroad.

The play tells the story of the drink driving incident which happened on 20th May 1983. Its main characters are two young sisters, Jo and Judy, who like to go out for a drink and have fun. It shows how one drunken night went too far. Jo and Judy had been to an aerobics session followed by a trip to the local wine bar. Judy hadn’t been drinking as much as Jo, but had still had over three quarters of a bottle of wine. They began to argue about who should drive home, Jo had previously been convicted for drink driving so, even though it was Jo’s car, Judy took to the wheel. Judy wasn’t used to driving Jo’s car and so when they approached a bend at Scratch Bridge, she didn’t turn the wheel enough and the car came off the road, hitting the bridge. The scaffolding construction sliced through the car, Judy escaped unhurt, but Jo was killed outright. The first on the scene was a man called Duncan, who lived close to where the crash happened. Duncan then dialled 999 and police officers, P.C. Abrahams and P.C. Caten, a friend of Jo and Judy’s family, arrived on the scene. After Judy was taken to the hospital, P.C. Caten went to break the news to their Mum, Vi. The play goes on to show the aftermath of the accident and how Judy and Vi deal with Jo’s death and how Judy deals with the guilt of killing her sister. The original script ended there, Judy had been fined £250 and was banned from driving for eighteen months. The script was further revised with another tragic accident involving Judy. This time Judy was involved in a car crash, not only with alcohol in her system but with traces of cannabis in her bloodstream. Judy had crashed into another car killing the young woman driver, only a mile from Scratch Bridge. Judy was sentenced to serve five years in prison and banned from driving for ten years from the date of her trial as well as having to retake her driving test before she drives again.

The play is based upon a true story and Mark Wheeller worked very closely with those involved and used only the words of those he interviewed who were involved and affected by the accident.

I enjoyed the play very much and think it really brought home the message. The contrast from the opening scene of the play, with the stereotypical characters of Bob and Nob and the comedy element brought into it, to when the crash happens and the aftermath from there on, I think worked very well as it would have taken the audience by surprise and the shock factor worked as a hard-hitting message against drink driving. The strength of the play lies in its truth, it hits the audience hard because not only is what happened real, but the words taken from interviews of those involved, are real as well. I liked the non-linear structure of the play, how it keeps revisiting the time of crash and the repetition of Judy’s monologue about the day of the accident represented how it had been playing on her mind ever since. When reading the play, I felt involved and also the need to keep reading on to find out more.

The play is written in a non-linear structure, often revisiting sections from other scenes, most importantly, the crash scene. It is also split into many chapters with different headings e.g. ‘A Night on the Piss!’ and ‘Childhood and Youth in Retrospect’. I think the way it is split up into different sections allows the audience to focus on each section of the story and also acts as a point of reference to different parts of the play. The audience can also see the contrast from one chapter to another, e.g. from the light-hearted opening section of fast, funny physical theatre in ‘A Night on the Piss!’ to the scenes of high emotional-intensity when breaking the news of Jo’s death in, ‘Breaking the News’.

I think the play was written to act as a message to teenagers and young adults to inform them about the dangers of drink driving. It works well as the beginning chapter, ‘A Night on the Piss!’ tells the typical story of Jo and Judy going out for a drink, which the audience can relate to. Then it goes on to say how one night out can lead to disaster, I think this will have a big impact on the audience.

There are many themes within the play, the main one being the effects of alcohol. The play shows the innocent effect of alcohol at the beginning, them having a good time and flirting with the characters of Bob and Nob in the bar, how it makes them happy and confident. Then soon after it shows how alcohol can make you do stupid things, like drink and drive. In this case it had disastrous consequences, resulting in the death of not only Jo but another woman in a separate drink driving incident. Judy did not learn from her mistakes, even killing her own sister was not enough to stop her from making the same mistake again, despite her swearing to never drink and drive again after the first accident. This relates to another theme in the play, guilt. The plays focuses on how Judy copes with the fact she killed her sister. However, Judy doesn’t feel guilty for the accident as it was that, an accident. I think Judy coped with the burden of killing Jo by reassuring herself it was inevitable and it wasn’t her fault,  ‘I would never have harmed Joanna, my sister, not on purpose, so I don’t feel guilty about killing her…because it was…an accident.’ I think that deep down, Judy does feel guilty and would have done anything to change what happened, ‘If I had one wish in the whole world, it’d be to go back to that night and…’

Another theme within the play is Death, and how different people cope with it. Judy coped with Jo’s death by not blaming herself and by reassuring herself it was an accident and it couldn’t have been helped, although deep down she would have done anything to have her sister back and the constant thought will always be at the back of her mind. ‘I’m having to pay for my mistake in a different way.’ Jo and Judy’s mother Vi, deals with the death of Jo by not blaming Judy for it, but by depending on Judy’s love and help to get through the difficult time, ‘No way in the world do I blame you. I love you very, very much. I need you as much as you need me. I desperately need you to help me’ Vi also repeats herself a lot when speaking to Judy, ‘I’ll help you but you’ve got to help your Mum, Judy.’ I think this is to reassure both Judy and herself that they will get through it. This links to another theme within the play, family relationships. The chapter, ‘Childhood and Youth in Retrospect’ describes clearly, Jo and Judy’s different relationships with their mother, Vi, and their own relationship as sisters. Jo and Vi always had a close relationship and I think Judy was quite jealous of that. Vi described Jo as, ‘willing, kind and thoughtful … an exceptional person.’ Vi also referred to Jo and her relationship as ‘really good friends as well as mother and daughter. I think Vi always saw Jo as her favourite child, ‘she was beautiful, all your children are aren’t they…but Jo was different.’ Judy had always noticed Vi and Jo’s special bond and I think was jealous of it and always longed for her mothers affection. When talking about Vi and Jo’s relationship, Judy sounds bitter and admits that she felt left out, ‘Joanna was like Mum’s idol. When I was young I felt a bit left out.’  Judy used to run away from home to her Nan’s house, this shows she was always seeking her mothers attention. Straight after the accident happened, Judy firstly reacted very confused about the whole situation. Judy wouldn’t believe that she came out of the accident with only a few cuts and bruises and her sister was dead, ‘…it didn’t even enter my mind that she could have been killed.’ Judy was repeatedly asking for her sister after the accident, this shows that Judy cared for Jo very much and didn’t want anything to have happened to her. When Judy first found out about Jo’s death, she refused to believe it. When it finally hit her that Jo was dead, Judy suddenly started to worry about what her mother would say. If anything, I think the accident improved Judy’s relationship with her mother as they depended on each to get through the tough time.

Judy is the main character in the play, she was married when she was seventeen and has a daughter, Leanne. When her marriage broke up, Jo always helped Judy look after Leanne. Judy has always been jealous of her sister and feels her Mum always preferred Jo. When Judy was married, I think she was jealous of Jo’s freedom. Jo would be out every night having fun while Judy was at home and was the ‘old frumpish housewife.’ During her schooldays, Judy was a bit of a bully and wasn’t very well behaved. Judy wasn’t very good academically either whereas Jo was always the top of her class. Judy and Jo’s relationship got better as they got older and they would often go out for a drink and both became quite heavy drinkers. Judy showed a kind and sensitive side to her when she picked up Jo from the police station when Jo had been convicted for drink driving. It was very early in the morning a few days before the accident, she didn’t argue or question Jo’s actions, this shows she really does care for her sister. Judy dresses quite scruffily and is very confident and doesn’t care what people think, although on the inside I think she just needs to be loved.

Jo is Judy’s older sister. She has always been the ‘better’ child, preferred by their Mum, Vi. Jo was well behaved and also very clever at school. When Judy would be out every night, Jo would spend hours on her homework. Jo also worked very hard in adult life but Judy and herself would go out for a drink very often and have become heavy drinkers. Jo was convicted for drink driving just days before the accident. Jo has a very close relationship with her Mum, Vi and didn’t want her to find out about the drink driving conviction. This shows that Jo is still worried about what her Mum would say and likes being the ‘good girl’ in her mother’s opinion. Judy has always been more outgoing than Jo but now they spend more time together in adult life, they have a much better relationship and Jo is becoming more like Judy in her ‘rebellious’ ways.

Vi is Jo and Judy’s mother. She also has another child called Johnnie, but he isn’t mentioned very much in the play. Before the accident, Vi had a special relationship with Jo and referred to them as being ‘really good friends as well as mother and daughter.’ Judy was always jealous of this relationship and longed for Vi’s affection. After the accident, Vi and Judy became very close as they relied on each other to get through the difficult time. Vi is a very kind, forgiving character. She didn’t blame Judy for the accident which shows she cares very much for all her children and despite her being in trauma about Jo’s death; she didn’t want to see Judy blame herself for the accident.

Duncan is the man who lives across the road from where the accident happened. He was the first on the scene and who dialled 999. His first reaction when looking out onto the crash was to not go out there straight away but to wait until someone else went to help them, ‘Oh shit! I don’t want to be involved in that! I’ll let someone else go and have a look.’ This shows he isn’t a very independent person; he’ll rely on other people to do things for him. Despite this being his immediate reaction, Duncan then decided to face his fears and go out there. This shows he is a caring person and couldn’t just watch the wrecked car without going to help. Duncan has a kind, comforting personality and was reassuring Judy that everything was going to be okay, and followed all the right procedure to keeping her safe until the ambulance arrived.

P.C Caten is an old friend of Jo and Judy’s family and was one of the two police officers first on the scene of the accident. He is a kind, caring, person and took the responsibility of breaking the news to Vi. He is very responsible and looks after Judy very well straight after the accident.

Bob and Nob are two lads that Jo and Judy meet in the bar at the beginning of the play. They are very stereotypical characters who are out on the pull. They are flirty, cheeky lads and use very ‘cheesy’ chat up lines, ‘Like your dress darlin’…it’d look better on my bedroom floor!’. Nob seems to be Bob’s sidekick but both are desperate for girls and are up for a good night out.

I think Mark Wheeller uses these stereotypical characters so the audience can easily recognise character types. If the audience can relate to a character then they can easily absorb the messages from the play. I think Mark Wheeller also uses stereotypes to create a clear contrast from the beginning of the play to when the crash happens therefore the bigger the contrast, the bigger the impact on the audience. The over-exaggerated characters of Bob and Nob create an almost comical element to the opening scene of the play; this would make the audience more relaxed and again, take the audience by surprise when the accident happens, which increases the ‘shock factor’ and gets the message across. Short phrases which Jo, Judy, Bob and Nob say at the beginning refer to stereotypical lads and stereo typical girls, ‘Hide the blemish, fake a tan. Glistening lips to temp a man.’ This means the audience can relate to these characters and feel more involved with the play.

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Mark Wheeller uses many conventions in the play. A flashback is used in ‘Childhood and Youth in Retrospect’ which shows Jo and Judy’s characters as children. A flash back is where you move from one scene to another scene that happened in the past. This is effective in the play as it shows their relationship as children. It shows how Judy has always been jealous of Jo as she had always been the ‘better’ child and their mother favoured her. The flashback also shows what Judy was like as a child, how she was a bully and not very clever at ...

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