Mummers Play

Maybe it’s something in the water or those strange odorous gases that sometimes drift in from Mogden. Maybe there is a crack in the space-time continuum separating the area from the rest of decent civilisation. Whatever the reason it is undeniable that the good people up in north St. Margarets are weird! First they stop the traffic with an annual street fair. Then they get their children rushing around the streets ‘beating the bounds’. Now they are intending to celebrate Christmas with a traditional medieval Mummers Play. Next they’ll be dunking witches and dancing around a maypole!

For those of you who are not fully up to speed with the 11th century, Mummers Plays were traditionally performed on St Stephen’s Day, the 26th December, as an entertainment and a way of raising money. The mummers, or guisers as they were sometimes called because of their disguises, would travel around a neighbourhood performing their self penned play in private houses, pubs and market squares, passing a hat round at the end. For poorly paid farm labourers or house servants the money was a valued Christmas bonus.

The Mummers Plays are pre-Christian in origin, and tell of the cycle of death and resurrection. It was believed that the dramatisation of the struggle of good against evil helped ensure that spring followed the winter, that light followed the darkness of year’s end.

Originally all the characters were played by men. They kept the same role for many years, eventually passing the part down their family by word-of-mouth. Over the centuries this ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect diluted the real significance of the original story, making present day performances very entertaining but virtually meaningless… that is, until now.

The North St Margarets Mummers Play breaks the tradition by using men, women and children in the cast. Although the story and the rhyming dialogue remain original in style the script has been revised to underline the main theme — that good defeats evil and light drives out darkness. Our hero, St George, fights Old Bob’s three evil sons – Greed, Pride and Violence – and kills them all. A visiting presence, St. Margaret, appears and reminds St. George that at Christmas time we must forgive the sins of others. Overcome with remorse St George calls in a quack doctor who for a small consideration brings the three evil sons back to life with his miraculous “Jerusalem Juice”. Promising to sin no more Old Bob and his sons, escorted by a crowd of ragamuffins, then venture into the audience asking for money.

Down in the meadows, where the birds sing funny
Ladies and gentlemen, please fill our ladles with money
The ladles are dumb and cannot speak
So fill them full, for Saint George’s sake.

After a bit of low-key medieval mugging the audience are rewarded with wine and mince pies. Then Old Father Time and a Child close proceedings with…

Love replaces hatred, hope replaces fear,
All our sins forgiven with the changing year.
From out the western window there is darkness, there is night.
But lo! Towards the eastwards. See, the sky is bright!

… which, after all that swordplay and bloodshed, is cheery news indeed!
Looking after events is a group of young ragamuffins who, accompanied by a medieval trio of bassoon, clarinet and flute, mark the various scenes in the play with carols and sound effects, reminding the audience…

We are not daily beggers
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbours’ children
Whom you have seen before.

Although in the past the Mummers Plays would be performed all around a district from the finest country house to the humblest pub, the North St. Margarets Mummers Play is playing only once. However, next year … ?

You are invited to join us to welcome in Christmas in medieval style. The play starts at 4.15pm on Saturday December 6th in the Church Hall, Northcote Road. Admission is free… although the ragamuffins would appreciate a few shiny coins — and the play is entirely suitable for children and adults of all ages. It lasts for approximately 25 minutes. Refreshments of a suitably seasonable kind will be available.

To reserve your seat please ring Old Father Time on 020 8892 5211.