Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Thameside Mummers

An excerpt from Christmas Past in Essex (ISBN 9780752444635) by Elizabeth Wallace.

Richard Peacock and Derek Oliver both members of the “Fabulous” Thameside Mummers describe how the group collects stories and maintains the tradition of Mumming plays.

“Plays have been discovered from villages all over England, mostly collected by local gentry or churchmen and written in their diaries or books of ‘local customs’ the tradition even reached Wales where the Mari Llwyd (Grey Mare) and her entourage would visit homes and perform a ritual song/play in return for food.

The villagers would perform their play but once each year, the parts being handed down from father to son; the costumes would be a suit of rags, with each character being introduced by the wording of the play ‘In come I…., or by a ‘calling-on’ song. These rags would be simple and cheap to produce but would also hide the ‘real’ identity of the performer, important if the play included some line, or ad-lib, critical of the church or the local gentry. For this reason, the Mummers would frequently blacken their faces with soot to hide their identity…. The Mummers would of course perform for the Lord of the Manor and his guests, expecting (and probably receiving) a considerable amount of reciprocal entertainment from the kitchen and wine cellar. Nowadays, the remuneration tends to be in the form of cash, though a free pint or two and the occasional meals are gratefully received and faithfully consumed.”