We were very lucky yesterday to see a performance by Croxley Mummers. A Mummers’ play is a long standing English tradition of amateur actors performing short plays, often associated with Morris dancing, at festivals, events, pubs or even people’s homes.
Traditionally there are two opponents having a fight, and the doctor character revives the fallen opponent by way of a magic potion.
Mummers’ plays are usually tied up with traditional celebrations, like Christmas, Easter or Halloween. Our event fell between St.George’s Day and May Day, so it was fitting that the play featured St.George. In the case of our Mummers, St.George slew not only the dragon, but also a Turkish Knight and a giant!
In early German the word ‘mummer’ meant a ‘disguised person’, and our mummers featured striking costumes and masks, the Dragon even spotting a bit of fairy lights after having been revived!
Through the ages mummers were mostly men, but now women take part as well, and we had ‘the Queen of Sheba’ rewarding St.George with her ‘favours’.
The earliest references to mummers plays come from mid 18th century. Folk traditions grow and change with the times, and mummers are no exception. The rhyming couplets verse included the references to Trump and Brexit, and very skilfully it was done, too!
The weekend of 1 -2 July 2017 saw the little Norfolk Town of Sheringham bustling with folk dance performances.
It all started in the 1990s, when the local Morris Dance group the Sheringham Lobster Potties started an annual festival with just a few visiting sides (a Morris dance group is called a ‘side’).
The Lobster Potties started in the 1980s and performed the traditional Norfolk Morris style around the UK and Europe. They chose the Lobster Pub as their headquarters, and as Morris dancing is considered by some as ‘potty’, the choice of the name was obvious!
In 2013 the Lobster Potties disbanded due to the lack of dancers, but a committee was formed to run the festival.
This 24th festival featured 40 folk dance sides, showcasing different styles and parts of the country in many locations around the town. The festivities kicked off on the Saturday morning with a parade of all the sides dancing through the town, with the captive audience lining up the streets.
Then groups moved from one location to another, each side taking it in turn to dance.
The festival culminated in the mass show in the main arena – the square in the town centre, with all the sides performing one dance for the final time.
Going round stately homes on a fine holiday weekend you can come across Jousting – re-enactment of knights in colourful armour tackling each other on horseback. This has been a popular summer theatrical entertainment from 1970s.
During Middle Ages jousting had a practical purpose – preparing knights (and their horses) for warfare. This was also the opportunity for the noblemen to demonstrate their skills and courage.
The term comes from Old French joster, which in turn has a Latin origin iuxtare meaning ‘to approach or to meet’. Two knights gallop towards each other, aiming to strike the opponent’s shield with a long blunt lance, knocking their weapons off or unsettling them from a horse. The English nobility spoke Old French since William the Conqueror, but by the time of Henry VIII we have an English word for it – tilt, which originally meant a barrier to separate the knights charging towards each other, and the tilt-yard is where this competition took place.
The knights wore heraldic signs over their armour, and so did the horses, on capes called caparisons.
As the sport developed, in later Middle Ages, it became more chivalric, and more regulated. There was a series of competitions, some of them involving agility and horsemanship skills, like charging towards a quintain – a wooden figure with two ‘arms’, one to be hit with a lance, and the other one holding a spiky club, which, as the quintain swings round, would hit the knight on the back if he was not quick enough to avoid it.
Another skill was to pick up rings with the lance, and to pin an object from the floor.
It was a popular sport with English nobility right up until 17th century, gaining more the status of a pageant, rather than training for battle.
And this is what we have today – a staged show, with knights in bright regalia, covering armour and horses, performing equestrian tricks and engaging in mock battles. The Knebworth House event had four knights from two opposing camps battling each other for the ‘Excalibur’ – pulled from a stone, obviously, by a little boy from the audience.
We were sitting by the side of the Black Knight – the ‘baddie’ of the show.
Lilia was very taken with him, and so was I, for his superb control of his horse, effortlessly doing sideways walks, prancing and charging from the spot, without obvious effort from the rider.
He lost, however, being the ‘bad guy’… Lilia insisted on watching the second show of the day, hoping for a different outcome, – no such luck, the second performance was exactly the same as the first one.
The entertainment was excellent – watch out for jousting events throughout the country in summer. Lilia certainly wants to see it again (hoping for the Black Knight to win….)