Potterne Christmas Mumming, WiltshireMummer plays date back hundreds of years, to at least Tudor times if not before, though most died out in Victorian or Edwardian days to be revived by those with a taste for the traditional in the years between the wars, or as in Potterne just outside Devizes after WWII – a local teacher there Bernard Baker was instrumental in reviving the Potterne play.
Sadly when the 2003 Licensing Act was brought in MPs were perhaps too busy considering their expenses claims to think the act through or discuss it in enough depth to foresee its problems, as in addition to hitting live music (so many bands once started on pub stages, so many are missing out now) it has also hit the traditional performances of mummer plays in pubs: those who had thought it was exempted along with Morris Dancing were wrong, it seems.
Nevertheless the Potterne Mumming survives: a brief performance of perhaps quarter of an hour put on – generally in pubs - in the days before Christmas. It features Father Christmas, complete with raggedy top hat and a beef and beer fixation; King George and Turkey Snipe (the Turkish Knight) who fight; the Spanish Doctor who cures the Turkey Snipe of a nasty case of being killed; and a Valiant Soldier who both kills and cures Father Christmas. Played with all the subtlety that traditional drama demands, with some singing and plenty of knockabout humour, the play is a wonderful link with the past that MPs should be ashamed of threatening by their oversights.
So if you get the chance to see the play, put some cash in the hat passed round to raise funds for good causes, and raise a glass with the players in toasting their continued success. And confusion to all those making their performance difficult.
More British Folk Customs?