Bath International Mummers Unconvention 2011 - Symposium Abstracts

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Tom Brown 'Six actors I've brought'

This paper compares the English mumming tradition with legitimate drama through the various aspects involved in preparation, performance and style, including: stage, storyline, temporal and geographic location, actors, audience, rehearsal, leadership, management and administration. It concludes that the vernacular tradition was of a style distinct from professional drama, from amateur dramatics and from pantomime, being a form of drama in its own right with its own mores and with its own strengths and weaknesses. It argues that some more recent revival styles of performance do not simply ignore the older style, but by doing so can precipitate the loss of a distinctive vernacular style. [Full PDF - 226kB]

Bill Tuck 'Experiments in the reconstruction of early 18th century English pantomime'

The 'pantomimes' created by John Rich and others in the early part of the 18th century became one of the richest and most prolific theatrical forms of that whole period. They were not at this stage mere 'children's entertainment' - that was a later 19th century development - but were a multimedia entertainment aimed at an adult audience. They included dance, instrumental music and song, along with very elaborate staging effects.

It has been suggested that this extremely popular form of theatre provided one possible source for the origin of the folk plays that emerged in the 18thC. While it is not our purpose to argue here for any direct connection, it might nevertheless be useful to describe some recent attempts at reconstruction of this important but elusive theatrical genre. Beginning in 1998 and over the following decade the Chalemie theatre group created and performed a number of pantomimes based on existing material from the many London stage productions of the early 18thC.

The paper explores the background to John Rich's The Necromancer - or Harlequin Dr Faustus (1723), Perseus & Andromeda (1730), and other pantomimes of this period, together with other sources of information, such as Hogarth's illustrations of Southwark Fair (1733). These provided much of the material for Chalemie's production of Harlequin Dr Faustus and Harlequin Pygmalion that were first performed at the South Bank Centre in January 2002/3 and subsequently toured the UK. The principal mummers characters of classical hero, rescued maiden, implacable foe, quack doctor, battle, resurrection and even a dragon (along with music, songs and dancing) are all to be found in these performances. [Full PDF - 270kB]

Mike Pearson 'Perform or Else: The Marshfield Mummers in Performance'

Whilst much scholarship of English mumming has focused upon the search for origins and upon the analysis of textual composition, this paper draws upon performance studies in outlining potential descriptive and critical approaches to traditional drama in its contemporary manifestation: in performance. Focusing upon the performances of the Marshfield Mummers: the Old Time Paper Boys - reconstituted under the influence of Violet Alford in the early 1930s - the proposed model considers the significance of space, time, pattern and detail; the application of rules, strategies and dynamics; the use of objects; the various integrations and separations of text and action; and the presence of different modes of performing. All within a particular architectural setting... [Full PDF - 733kB]

Lynn Lunde 'Illegal acts in disguise: Mumming as a component of collective social action in 19th century Newfoundland'

Mumming in Newfoundland is and was a tradition characterized by anonymity and unconventional behaviour. As mumming activities occurred both in public out-of-doors spaces and inside people's homes, 19th century mummers had the opportunity to communicate with most, if not all, members of a community through face-to-face interaction or through word-of-mouth. The event was entertainment but it could also be understood and experienced as a form of intimidation, as a venue for exercising personal rancour and community social control. Using the form of house-to-house visitation, mummers were able to communicate specific pieces of information to targeted households and individuals. Use of the disguise element of the tradition allowed persons access to the license accorded mummers by traditional practice and to render social justice according to the understanding of the community. The structure of the tradition also allowed the use of various of its elements within collective social action to influence political, economic, and social activity in early 19th century Newfoundland. [Full PDF - 179kB]

Steve Rowley 'Bajan Mummers - Have they lost the plot?'

Evidence of mummers exists in the contemporary folk culture of Barbados. Performing with a small 'Tuk' band can be found a cast of dancers in tatters costume that would recognisable to any student of mumming, including a giant, a hobby horse and a man-woman. In living memory they performed a Christmas night visiting tradition. Since WWII the Tuk tradition has been in decline but in the last 15 years has undergone a significant revival through tourist shows and an island-wide project in schools. No play script has surfaced so far. This paper explores this and related traditions, and their origins. [Full PDF - 445kB]

Peter Millington & Caspar James 'Mummies and Masquerades: English and Caribbean Connections'

The composite mumming play script that the Ecclesfield-based Victorian children's author Juliana Horatia Ewing published in 1884 found its way to St Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean, where it was it was taken up enthusiastically by the black population as one of its Christmas Sports. The Mummies continue to act (and dance) to this day. Economic migrants took the Christmas Sports in turn to the Dominican Republic, in particular around the town of San Pedro de Macoris, where the performers recently gained a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Award.

St.David challenges Slasher - Mummies on St Kitts Guloyas in the Dominican Republic
St.David challenges Slasher
Mummies on St Kitts.
Guloyas in the Dominican Republic

This presentation will be based around two recently-made videos. Peter Millington will introduce Ewing's play, and footage of the St Kitts Mummies and the Bull Play filmed by Joan McMurray. Caspar James will continue the story by introducing footage of the related tradition from the Dominican Republic called the Wild Indians in English and Los Guloyas (the Goliaths) in Spanish. [Full PDF - 1.67MB]

Graham Clarke 'Guisering today on the Derbyshire/Nottingamshire border'

Ripley Morris Men, formed in 1924, revived in 1981.

In 1982 after we performed the Derby Tup we were contacted by Percy Cook who told us about the Guisers play he used to do as a child, before the First World War, in Hammersmith, Ripley. We performed Percy's play, complete with two songs at the end, and using wooden swords he had made for us, the following Christmas, and every Christmas since.

Percy's play is very short. Ideal to perform in a modern pub, where attention spans are also very short. We can manage 15 or more performances a night.

Performances on the three (or four) Fridays in December before Christmas, about 40 performances, at pubs/clubs around Ripley and Selston.

Venues (agreed with landlord), routes and times vary, decided by the tour leader. No advertising, we burst in, perform, collect, and disappear (after a beer). Collection for Ripley Hospital League of Friends, (hospital built by public subscription following the death of a miner). We collect £1200+ each year.

Quite a strong local Guisering tradition in the area, some older people know the words, and there are texts for 8 local plays, 5 of which we have collected. We have some interesting reminiscences from our informants.


  • Keeping the play up to date with references to topical news.
  • Costumes vary continuously, chosen by the performers, who also vary.
  • We like to ad lib, and interact with the audience. Performances can vary considerably. Reactions range from hostile, indifference, to active participation, particularly with hen parties.
  • Some black up, some now use other colours (blue, green, white, red) as the mood or character takes us, to avoid offence.
  • If we have more performers we split parts, or double up characters. If we have less we double up parts. We usually add an extra character, The Policeman, who finishes the play off, and tells everyone where we are going next, so they can avoid it. We added Nelson for the anniversary of Trafalgar.
  • Some of us like to add new props.
[Full PDF - 88kB]

Roger Duncan 'Rockness Mummers play: Performed by the people of Rockness for the people of Rockness'

The Rockness mummers play was written by the poet Tom Clarke in 2001 for the people of Rockness. It has been performed by the people of Rockness in a ring of fire on the street on twelfth night for a number of years. Last year the 10 anniversary, we performed the play in a nearby hamlet and also near Bristol and it was well received. Mixing community spirit, fire, and ancient archetypes this play has been a catalyst for building community spirit on a small road in Gloucestershire In this symposium I would like to present the story of the Rockness mummers play from the first performance of a traditional play from Sapperton and a realisation that this tradition was broken. I will give the background of getting a new play written and performed on the street and the impact on the community of Rockness. I will also present some thoughts about the characters and archetypal nature of the mummers play and links with sense of place. I could also possibly show a film of the performance to illustrate this.

Gavin Skinner 'An illustrated talk concerning the Brunel play'

In September 2009 a new mummers' play was performed for the first time around the streets of Bristol; in the shadow of Clifton Suspension Bridge, at the Underfall Yard, next to the ss Great Britain, in the centre of Queen Square and at the Temple Meads Old Station. Each location had a connection with the history and achievements of a man who made Bristol famous - although he never made it his home.

Performed by Rag Morris Mummers, The Nine Lives of Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an attempt to encapsulate the spirit of this complex individual by presenting nine episodes from his life as a series of short mummers' plays. The great engineer is well-known for his magnificent failures as well as his astonishing triumphs; he often took great risks and frequently ended up in mortal danger. In order to present these episodes as a mummers play, the character of Doctor Foster, down from Gloucester, was introduced to cure his man if he was not quite dead; and represented the real-life physicians who would have treated the engineer after his accidents and through his bouts of ill-health. The play was performed once more on the 15th September 2009 - the 150th anniversary of Brunel's death.

The play, however, lives on - and was revived in 2011 for the Bristol Folk Festival, on stage at the Colston Hall, and for the UnConvention. This talk is a chance to discover more about the processes behind the creation and performances of the play. [Full PDF - 310kB]

See also the symposium's Programme, Authors' Biographies, and Photographs pages.
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