Times and venues for upoming performances

Ripon Market Square - 3rd 4th & 5th August 2014 from 8.45pm.

The tradition of performing a Mummers' Play goes back many centuries and nobody knows for certain when, where or why they started. There are two existing traditional plays in this area: one from Ripon itself (known as the "sword dancers'" play - although there has not been a sword dance accompanying it within living memory!) and one from the nearby village of Skelton-on-Ure. Both plays are of the "Blue Stots" tradition; named after the plough boys who performed around Christmas or new Year in order to cadge some extra money for the festive season.

The Skelton-on-Ure play was revived on the 26th December 1981 by Roy Waite, Tony Butcher, Mike Dearlove, Paul Freeman, and Dave Lancaster. They were all members of Hornblower Morris. Hornblower had had their first dance out on 14 December 1980 and would have their last on 30 June 1982.

   

In 1986, Ripon celebrated 1100 years of existence as a City, based on the claim of the granting of a Charter in the form of a night watchman's horn by King Alfred the Great. The office-bearer whose responsibility it was to set the nightly curfew or "watch" by blowing the horn, was called the "Wakeman" because he stayed awake all night to guard he City and keep the peace.) So in that year, Wakeman Mummers came into being to create a "new tradition", with a short play in the Mumming style. The idea of the play is to tell, simply and with humour, the story of the granting of Ripon's Charter in 886AD coupled with the name of the City's Patron, St Wilfrid.

The week of St Wilfrid's Feast, which follows on from the Procession held in Ripon on the Saturday before the "old" August Bank Holiday Monday (the first Monday in August), was chosen as the most appropriate time of year to perform this play. And because all traditions must start somewhere, we can claim that, having performed it every year since 1986 without a break, the "St Wilfrid Play" (as it is popularly known) has now become a well-established tradition in the City.

Mummers' costumes are fairly simple: a tatter-coat and a hat decorated with ribbons and other ornaments, and with the actors' faces only crudely disguised with black or white make-up. The original reason for blacking the faces is supposed to be to make the actors anonymous - the St Wilfrid Play has developed this idea by adapting to a white face with dark eye-sockets for the two "ghosts": St Wilfrid and King Alfred. The mumming tradition demands that proper acting is kept to a minimum, since the words are more important than the actors themselves. Lines are spoken in rhyme, which keeps the play moving along at a brisk pace, whilst telling the story using Ripon's own characters from both the present and the past.

   

A short morris dance usually follows each performance of the play: and recent research into the traditions of this area have revealed that the original Blue Stots also probably performed a dance as part of their performances.

Sweeney Todd Mummers Play tour - 20th Feb 2009 See the pictures!

Please contact Roy Waite 01765 600480 roy.roywaite@btinternet.com for more details

Morris Dancing Teams in the Ripon & Harrogate District

Morris Diary