A traditional North Yorkshire Mummers Play
I saw a world that I didn’t know existed last night. Whilst sat having a quiet jar with a friend in the (Graeme) Swan on The Stray public house, we were ‘warned’ that there would shortly be a performance and we may not like it on the grounds that it may be “a bit loud”. We were told there was to be a ‘Mummers Play’ – some kind of “Medieval thing” and a profusion of pre emptive apologies were proffered. The up-coming performance was pre-empted along the same lines as if someone was about to enter with a small dog who takes a special interest in ones legs. The general ‘medieval, play and loud’ bits piqued our interest, so we decided to grab a ringside seat.
Several minutes later the show began. In comes the first player. A pitch of introduction, belted out at the top of the lungs by someone dressed in a top hat, a ‘blacked up’ face and dark suit covered in coloured rags. Over the course of the next few minutes, all of the players came into the pub in a similar vein. “IN COMES… ” and then their pitch. Intrigue, a sword fight and a back stabbing murder were the next events – quite outrageous for 8pm on a Tuesday evening in Harrogate! A unique spectacle of vintage surrealism. Some of our fellow patrons even put down their iPhones for a minute to passively observe this comedic spectacle.
I felt rather lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have see this. It certainly falls under the ‘you don’t see that every day’ category. I was quite amazed that others punters seemed to think of it as a bit of in imposition, an inconvenience at best. My friend Henry, who caught a later performance in the (Andy Flower) Coach & Horses also enjoyed it – he said “It’s nice to hop back a few hundred years during your pint! It reminded me of the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who do their own Mummers play.” He also noted the general apathy to get involved in this less accessible form of entertainment, which he summed up the patronage’s attitude with “Unappreciative and seemed narked at being distracted from thinking about their Audi’s”
I had a brief chat with one of the company after their performance and have subsequently done a little research – it seems the roots of The Mummers, although a little patchy, stems from the middle ages when troupes of actors used to perform a seasonal play to collect money from “The big houses” for charity. I am so pleased to see such a bizarre, obscure and quintessentially English tradition lives on and give this a ‘like – thumbs up’ in the traditional sense of the phrase.