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Old 12-29-16   #6
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: South Coast UK
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Default Re: Folk and Mummers' Plays

Mumming from the other side.

No, not the dark side, although I did once take part in a Hallowe'en play we never did it again and I've conveniently lost the script). This year, because this side of the pond today is the official bank holiday whereas the actual 26th) was 'boxing day' we got to see all four of Crookham's spots that day.

This is one of the events which count as 'traditional' by the reckoning of my late and much lamented mentor, in that people will turn up in droves even if you don't put posters up. It didn't start well, as anyone who read my yesterday's post in 'what are you doing' will have gathered. In the end we were only fifteen minutes late so we got there in time to see the fighting, but at the expense of me wrenching my shoulder quite badly due to hving to brace myself against the dash as my wife wove in and out of the lorries on the first half of the mtorway stretch. The pub is by the side of the local canal and is now called The Exchequer, this is quite clever because it was originally The Chequers - I played there occasionally back in the early seventies, severely under-age for drinking but it's basically in the mddle of nowhere so nobody cared back then. When the old couple retired it bacame The George and Lobster, basically a restaurant, great food but utterly soul-less. The new people took it on four years ago and I don't think they expected an audience of over a hundred. It was utter chaos that year but now they've got it all sussed - it still does good food, but they'e restored the locals bar area and they do mullled wine outside to relieve the pressure at the bar.

As I said, we missed the opening part so we were at the back of a four-deep crowd. 'Sod This' I said, and went inside to watch from the one window that doesn't get obscured by the players who aren't in a particular scene. Inside knowledge is a wonderful thing. I watched the first fight and when the first sword broke and part of it went into the crowd everyone in the bar went 'oh my God'. No health and safety stuff here but the only person ever to have been injured is Richard, the melodion player, who had his forehead gashed, but was expertly patched up by the local GP - who was in the audience - and gamely carried on. Actually I said 'no health and safety' and in an earlier post on this thread I said that being in the front row is scary when the fighting is going on. It's meant to be scary, it's not meant to be dangerous, so... I know how much rehearsal goes into the scenes, and the hilts of the wooden swords are colour-coded for those that are meant to break. Turkish Knight is a different matter - his is a scimitar about four times the size of the others and made of sturdy plywood. More on the trick behind that in a minute. And the last concession to H&S is that at this spot, where the audience inevitably spills out onto the road, there's a lookout in a hi-vis vest at either end of the pitch.

Anyway, the fight results in two 'dead' people. Next is the 'cure', which was the original centerpiece in the first recorded scripts. One of the dead is actually a woman; this doesn't happen often, because the original group was all male (why they all died in the first world war), the women couldn't face doing it and the revival side prefer to respect that, but...

There's another reason. While the doctor is doing his spiel about everything from casting out demons to stitching decapitated heads back on, the woman very demurely pulled the end of the rope of 'sausages' out from her tunic. I am practically wetting myself at this when the American lady next to me asks 'why is that funny?'. 'You'll see' I replied. Whether they'd worked it out in advance or whether the doctor worked it out on the fly, I don't know and won't ask, but the male dead person got cured first. The doctor made a great show of rummaging inside the man's costume to find the sausages (not real and meant to indicate intestines anyway) and flinging them (about a nine-foot length) into the audience. Then he sedately pulled the sausages from the woman's costume, without touching her anywhere intimate. Knowing her as I do, she probably wouldn't have minded, but folks, it's a family show.

By now, the American woman is laughing as well. Turkish Knight and Father Christmas fight, Father Christmas, who is dressed with Beelzebub horns and referred to in the script as 'my father Abraham' (like I said, it's a family show) dies, and Rukish Knight sits on him to do the last lines. I offered the woman a drink, knowing that in about three minutes the bar will be heaving, and she replied 'yes, but only if I can look at your shoulder before you move on'. We drank, we discussed aspects of the play, and then she said 'right, open your shirt and let me look'. We moved to by the fireplace, the only area where there was some privacy. 'It's dislocated. Normally an A&E job. I'm only in my second year but I've done this bit of the course. I can put it back in, but it's going to hurt'. She wsn't joking, but my wife, who had ujnknown to us been watching from by the bar, brought a very large scotch over. 'I don't know whether it's okay to laugh, but drink that and we'll move on'. I don't normally drink scotch, but it's far to say that by the time we reached the Black Horse (about a mile's walk) most of the pain had subsided.

Our new-found friend - Kate - came with us, we beat the mummers and she and my wife went inside to get served before the rush while I was instructed to bag a pitch. This I did by dropping my flack jacket next to me. Unpopular with strangers but happily accepted by the locals. This time we saw the whole play, from 'In comes I, I enter in...' right through to 'ladies and gentlemen, give what you please.' Kate queried whether 'dreadfullest' is a real word, my wife laughed and said 'In Crookham it is'. Kate was heading off for lunch with someone, but we went inside to exchange emails and suchlike, and for me to tell the story of the year I actualy performed.

This was the last time the calendar meant that we could see all four spots and I was greatly looking forward to it, but the night before I got a panic phone-call to the effect that the doctor had laryngitis and could I cover? 'Run-through at the Horse at eleven you'll need yor costume but we've got all the props'. I hadn't even said yes, but I guess they knew I wouldn't turn them down. The end result was pretty much like the journey up yesterday; my wife cut it fine, I changed in the front seat of the car - no mean feat in a Fiesta - and we did a flying pass down the main road. She screeched to a halt and stopped outside the pub, I jumped out just as the second death occurred, heard my in-cue, took a deep breath and started. Someone handed me the doctor's bag just in time and murmured 'drama queen'. My wife emerged 'I've found a slot in the car-park and I can take him down to the first spot after we get a drink inside him'. It's traditional the the group arrive together, on foot, so we compromised that she'd drop me at the bridge over the little stream, and I'd link up with them while she went to park. Surprisingy after all the chaos, not only did this work but all four spots went well. I think I may have said earlier about how much rehearsal goes into this stuff.

We said good-bye, agreed to keep in touch, and Kate headed off for lunch while we went of to The Crescent, which is actually the village green, fairly close. This is out of doors, no cover at all, medium length grass and of course it had been raining for two days. An audience of about a hundred was waiting on the hard standing. The hapless performers, including the three who will have to lie on the stuff, looked slightly less enthusiastic. By now I have two wines and a large scotch inside me and the pain is almost gone. I enter into the heckling with gusto. It's traditional, but as with some other aspects of this my wife is less enthusiastic than I am. 'In comes I, good King George, a man of courage bold' three of us regulars respond 'Courage Best, more like' (it's a beer). I am left on my own to feed the doctor his straight line just before the cure; he does 'pains within and pains without'. I do 'without what?' enabling him to respond 'without any help from you'. All good clean fun - like I said, a family show. By this time the two dead people are thoroughly soaked so the curegpes fairly swiftly. Turkish Knight is on his third scimitar. Now with the ordinary swords it doesn't matter if a few bits accidentally fly off into the crowd - okay, if one hit someone in the eye end on then it might do some damage, but most of the debris ends up in the 'stage' area. The scimitar is another matter; how to smash it on cue wihout endangering anyone? I inherited this idea from Bristol Rag and passed it on. Put the thing into a bench vice and break it where you want it to break. Now hot-glue the rough edges back together. During the fight, hit it end on and it stays in one piece. At the denouement turn the scimitar on its side and use the smaller sword to strike downwards near the end. breaks quite convincingly and the broken end goes straight down, endangering no one except perhaps Turkish Knight's feet. Hasn't happened yet but just in case he wears steel-cappped work-boots. He gets his 'discharge' to go home and tell his country how merciful the Englsh are. Final fight and a somewhat reticent Father Christmas dies and is sat upon.

Last stop, the Black Horse, another mile. The group doesn't stay together this time - the three soaking wet fighters leg it to get outside of a beer and dry themselves by the fire. We walk up with the remainder. Once they've sorted themselves out, 'In comes I, I enter in...': by this time all the regular audience who've followed the play since the Exchequer know all the new jokes for 2016 and join in. New for this year is a huge soft toy pig. The lines run 'I knew your father years ago' 'Never had one' inevitably 'oh yes you did from the audience 'oh no I didn't' and so on until eventually it gets boring and Father Christmas says 'oh yes you did. I bought pigs off him. and kept them in the straw yard. I fed them on turnip-tops yet they died for want of litter'. They fought half-heartedly while looking for a puddle-free bit of car park for Father Christmas to 'die' in. Eventually, we go inside and I leg it to the bar. Both the publican and my wife could see that I'm still having trouble moving around. This is where the sense of community comes in. My wife said 'sit there and I'll go get the car'. The publican asks 'are you parked back by the canal?' My wife nods. He yells through to the other bar 'Beth, the rush is over, I have somehing else for you. Drive this lady to the canal car-park near The Exchequer, then lead her back in her car and let her block you in in the staff area while she picks the lad here up'. They vanished, no questions asked, saving at least half an hour. He poured me a large wine. 'Tell me about the pigs and that's on the house'. I confessed that no-one knows - even the mummers don't understand it. 'It was in the script at the start. I think it's a bit like Romani singing, where the lyrics change from generation to generation until they make no sense at all.'

'Ah well,' he said 'it's still on the house. At least I've got something to tell the punters when they ask. Is that true about the Roma?' 'Yep'' You kn ow about this stuff?' But that tale will keep for another post on another thread...

mankind's greatest advances are launched on dreams
(dedication in Tess Gerritsen's "Gravity")
...the dreams that stuff is made of
(a tee-shirt for the top quark team at CERN: now the title of an anthology of papers on quantum physics edited by Stephen Hawking)
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