Mummers Plays: What are they?
Mummers Plays, or Mumming Plays, are ritualistic performances that might be well over a thousand years old. They are traditionally associated with the Christmas period (Midwinter Solstice). In other parts of the country they are performed at Easter (Pace Egging) and at All Souls Day near Samhain (Soulers).
These plays at one time were thought to be linked with pagan rites showing the triumph of life over death (death and resurrection), good over evil. It is now fairly certain that the type of play popular today did not exist before the mid-18th C. Medieval references to Mummers Plays refer to a different type of masked play (Mystery or Miracle plays with a religious basis). Roving groups of players were certainly the stuff of ancient history but it has not proved possible, at present, to link the current plays with these groups.
We have performed the Wantage Mummers Play since its revival in June 1977 though this is now only performed on December 26th. It is based on an old tradition from the nearby village of Steventon in Oxfordshire. It is a typical mid-Berkshire/Oxfordshire mummers play of the hero-combat type. At one time hundreds of villages across England had a mummers play to perform; in fact all counties except Suffolk and Norfolk.
The last traditional play performed in the area was in 1881 when it was staged for Lady Wantage at Lockinge House. Maintaining the anonymity of the players is a key feature, as villagers thought it bad luck if they could identify a performer.
- The Icknield Way Morris Men sponsor the Wantage Mummers.
- Buy Old Father Beelzebub’s Speech for 2015. Proceeds donated to MacMillan Cancer Support, the charity supported for this year.
- Old Father Beelzebub’s full account of our play is now available for free.
- Presentation to the 2014 Mummers Unconvention