The MUMMERS PLAY: A Midwinter Ritual
Illustrated script with music & an explanatory introduction
Full Colour throughout
Studio recording of play on CD in pocket inside back cover
£12.00 including shipping
‘You may wonder what is the Mummer’s Play, and what is its meaning.
This is what there was before there was Christmas.
The Winter Solstice and the Turn of the Year was then celebrated by a play of ritual and symbolism.
Here we have the fight between Summer (St. George) and Winter (The Black Knight). You shall see Summer killed by Winter and then Summer’s rebirth by extraordinary means. And then you will see the death of Winter. This is the story of the seasons.’
This ritualistic & symbolic midwinter combat play tells the story of the fight between Summer (St George) and Winter (the Black Knight).
Summer is killed by Winter and then brought back to life by extraordinary means (by a Quack Doctor).
Dating back to the 1750’s The Mummers’ Play was once a popular Christmas entertainment. It is now a rarity, though it is currently going through something of a revival.
The North Curry Play was first performed in 1990 and now draws a large audience to watch a well-polished performance.
In the late 1980s I moved to Somerset from the suburbs of London.
It was an inspirational time: amongst the suburban streetlights of London one is barely aware of the changing seasons – here I was struck by the sadness of Autumn, the impenetrable gloom of Winter, the outrageous fecund glory of an English hedgerow in May – and the mood changes of the Seasons in between. These have proved an enduring source of inspiration ever since, influencing my painting, sculpture and writing.
A few years before this I had witnessed a poorly rehearsed and somewhat baffling performance of a Mummers Play in a pub car park. It was an uninspiring effort – but the idea of a symbolic, midwinter ritual stayed with me and, now, having just joined the local Morris Team, I found a willing team of volunteers ready to ‘have a go’.
In writing the play I decided to avoid the knockabout panto element so common in many Mummers’ Plays. Whilst drawing on traditional sources I reshaped the narrative to have a distinctly seasonal theme: the combat, death and rebirth drama of the play seemed to have very obvious parallels with the seasonal drama – we have the combat between Summer and Winter – Winter slays Summer who is then revived. It’s a simple metaphor – the rebirth of Summer, and the banishing of Winter always gets a cheer from the audience.
We were fortunate that one of the players owned a rehearsal studio and so, in 2007, were able to record the play in (more-or-less) professional quality. By then the play had evolved from the initial 15 minute skeletal performance of 1990 to something far more elaborate and subtle. Using the ‘technology of the time’ I put the recording on a CD, which is included in the book. I’m very glad we captured that moment for posterity.
It was a strange business recording the Play in a darkened studio with headphones and microphones – very different from the vigorous performances we put on in the village square.
The fight sequence proved particularly hilarious: melons hit with hammers and breaking sticks of celery were used to create the sounds of stabbed flesh and cracking bones. It was a painstaking business piecing the sounds together – the thirty second sequence took about ten hours to complete!
I moved away from Somerset in 2018 – but the play, I believe, is still performed in the village square on Boxing Day at 1.00.
There is also a performance by Holt Morris, near Bath, around Christmas time.
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