If you had stopped for a drink at the New Inn in Winchelsea on the Sunday after the New Year, you would have been surprised at the other people standing at the bar. Winchelsea Mummers had turned out to deliver their (almost) Twelfth Night performance in typically raucous fashion.
For the first half of the evening, a traditional Mummer’s format was followed – St George slayed the dragon; he was challenged by a suitably politically incorrect Turkish Knight, whom he slayed in turn; in response to the pleas of the Turkish Knight’s sister, a dubious doctor tried and failed to revive the slain warrior; the grieving sister managed to do so; then she and St George ran off together, and the Mummers sang a plaint for beer money.
To the man that wrote this in the 18th or 19th century, it all no doubt made perfect sense. But while both audience and players were clueless as to the meaning of the play, in 21st century Winchelsea, no one questioned tradition and everyone seemed to like dressing up!
Rather less traditionally, this year, the Mummers offered a second half, consisting of a brief narrative history of Winchelsea interpersed with adaptations of popular songs, from Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” to “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and even “The Red Flag”.
The narrative was read in the staid style of BBC radio of the 1940s, but the songs were anything but 1940s BBC, dealing imaginatively with the flooding of Old Winchelsea; attacks by the French; the importance of sheep to the local economy and local shepherds; the town’s allegedly continuing status as a Rotten Borough, and other features of Winchelsea’s history and current situation.
With honour satisfied, the Mummers settled down to spend their beer money and the audience escaped unharmed for another year.
Photo : Rachel Comotto