Ancient Mumming Play
By David Hicks
This is what used to pass for entertainment before telly was invented
Mumming is a traditional form of robust folk drama performed, usually in pubs, around Christmas and New Year. Some say that the play originally represented the triumph of the Sun over darkness at midwinter but we’ve found that performing the play puts it through a process of ad-libs and larking about until it evolves and becomes almost unrecognisable from the original article!
We are fortunate in that Geoff Metcalf, a founder member of Ravensbourne Morris, collected the Westerham Play. The Ravensbourne Morris Men had been out trying to dance in the pouring rain on the day before the Coronation (1 June 1953). In the evening, in the Bat & Ball at Leigh, Geoff Metcalf heard Jack Medhurst, an elderly gentleman of 72 reciting the Westerham Christmas Play word-perfect from his own performance in it some 40+ years previously; that is, before World War I. Geoff made an appointment subsequently to sit down with the man, and took down the detail of it. Details were passed to the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
When you see our performance you’ll realise we’ve taken some outrageous liberties with it. I don’t think Mr Jack Medhurst would recognise it from that which he narrated to Geoff Metcalf in 1953. The current Ravensbourne Mummers were initiated by Paul Burgess during his reign as Squire of Ravensbourne Morris, probably in 2006, with a cast of players from Ravensbourne Morris. The play has mutated into THE FAMOUS RAVENSBOURNE MUMMERS PLAY with variations over time. Some remnants of the Leigh Play remain but other elements have somehow been introduced!
FATHER CHRISTMAS: (In Father Christmas drag) Enters ringing a hand bell. While looking for a suitable space says:
In comes I, Old Father Christmas. Am I welcome or am I not?
(Repeats loudly :) Am I welcome or am I not?! (Waits for cheer)
I hope Old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
Father Christmas has but a short time to stay
But I hope to show you some sport before I go away
For in this room there shall be shown The greatest battle that ever was known.
Step in King George with thy free heart.
And whatever you do, please don't fart.
KING GEORGE: (Big old unit in a Crusader Knight costume with wooden sword and shield)
In comes I, King George! (Wait for cheer, if no cheer, repeat loudly)
That man of courage bold;
With my broadsword and spear I won ten crowns of gold;
I brought the mighty dragon to slaughter
And by these means won the King of Egypt’s daughter
If any man dare enter this room I will hack him small as dust,
Afterwards I will send him to the Marks and Spencer cookery shop
To be made into Mince Pie crust.
(Aside - Not just any mince pie, but a Marks and Spencer Mince Pie)
TURKISH KNIGHT: (Small man, carrying wooden sword)
In comes I, little Turkish Knight.
In Turkey land I learned to fight.
In Turkey land I learnt to dance the Morris
But now I’m here in England and, ladies, full of Eastern Promise
I’ll fight King George, that man of courage bold.
And if his blood be hot, I’ll quickly make it cold.
Ho, Ho, my little fellow, thy talk is very bold;
Just like one of these little Turkish knights of whom I have been told
Pull out your sword and fight; Pull out your purse and pay;
For satisfaction I will have before I go away
Satisfaction, satisfaction, I'll give you no satisfaction;
My body's made of iron; my legs are made of steel.
My arms are made of solid brass; do you want to have a feel?
(King George feels Turkish Knight’s bicep)
They fight, and during this the OLD WOMAN enters sweeping with her besom broom. After a mock sword fight, KING GEORGE stabs (Or pulls a revolver and shoots) the Turkish Knight and he falls to the ground.
OLD WOMAN: (In drag and carrying a besom broom)
Oh, Oh. King George, what hast thou done? (Hitting King George with her broom)
Thou hast killed my only son. Is there a doctor can be found?
To cure this bleeding man, I mean, this man bleeding on the ground?
Is there a doctor to be found to cure him of his grievous wound? (Wound rhymed with ground)
Ten pounds for a Doctor!
Fifteen pounds to stay away!
Twenty pounds for a doctor and not a penny more.
ITALIAN DOCTOR: (Dressed like a Pox Doctor’s Clerk, enters with Dobbin (The venerable and respected Ravensbourne Hooden Horse) making farting noises with a concealed Whoopee Cushion.
In comes I, an Italian Doctor Just lately come from Spain.
And this is Dobbin, the Incredible Farting Horse!
(Dobbin makes more farting noises)
OLD WOMAN: (Looking him up and down)
You’re a doctor? How did you become a Doctor?
By my travels, madam.
Where have you travelled?
Italy, Germany, France and Spain
All around (Name local area) and back again.
So what can you cure?
I can cure the itch, the stitch, the bone, the stone the palsy, pox and gout.
The pains that lie within and the pains that lie without.
I can heal the sick and cure the lame. And best of all, ladies, (Archly)
I can make dead things to rise again.
(A cane or some other phallic prop is slowly raised to the upright – the cast should join in with swords, bell handle and broom handle raised to the upright then pushed down again)
Then try your skill, Doctor.
(After some messing around with various paraphernalia from the Doctors Bag and performing a bollockectomy with washing tongs and two walnuts in a stocking)
I have a little bottle in my waistcoat pocket.
It’s called the golden frosty drop (produces small bottle)
If I pour a drop on his nose, thus. (does so)
And a drop on the roof of his tongue, thus (does so)
And say to him, arise, go home and tell your country
What a European migrant worker has done for thee.
(TURKISH KNIGHT recovers and walks away)
JOHNNIE JACK: (should be the smallest man, and has sewn onto his jacket-back a piece of cardboard about 18” square, with 5 dolls - the biggest in the middle)
In comes I. Little Johnnie Jack,
With my wife and family on my back.
My family is large and I am small,
But a very little helps us all.
A jug of brown ale makes us merry and sing;
Money in our pockets is a very fine thing.
Now ladies and gentlemen, just at your ease.
You may give us Christmas Champions just what you please.
The performance finishes with a verse and chorus of 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' followed by hearty cries of Merry Christmas! as the players exit. (Leaving Little Johnnie Jack to go around with the hat).
Follow The Bagman on Twitter for notifications of live performances. Enjoy the spectacle of the Famous Ravensbourne Mummers bringing you the spirit of an old-time Yuletide. When the Mumming season is upon us you know that Christmas really has arrived.