A cheerful, bewildered, and slightly stunned 65 strong audience witnessed a new Winchelsea tradition at the New Inn on Sunday January 4, the second annual performance of a Mummers’ play by a cast of thousands played by nine members of the Bonfire Boyes with support from Mr Terry Hulf’s Sessions Band. Those who might argue that Winchelsea needs a new tradition like a hole in the head were treated to 20 minutes of high drama and a cautionary tale.
The performance was solemnly introduced by Richard Marsh, a large citizen playing Little Johnny England in a coat modelled on the biblical Joseph’s. As Master of the Ceremony, he described the medieval and religious influences on Mummers’ plays and offered an introduction that proved to have nothing to do with the subsequent performance. It was a relief when a well-spoken Thespian (David Hopkins) interrupted him and began an interesting portrayal of civil strife in Winchelsea, but this was sadly and roughly cut short by the other cast members, accusing the Thespian of being in the wrong play.
The main action involved a confrontation between St George, meticulously played, spoken, and costumed on horseback by Phil Laverton, and a grand and imposing Saracen Knight (Richard Comotto), the splendour of whose clothing was a tribute to Winchelsea’s earlier and perhaps more useful tradition of needlework. He also wore an enormous Moorish hat with which he set the New Inn’s Christmas decorations waving with every gesture. This pair were supported by the fashionably bearded Queen of Aegypt (David Davies) and a sinister Mayor of Winchylsee (Chris Mears), whose presence inspired many comments on the legality and accountability of the current political leadership of the town.
St George then apparently succeeded in killing the Saracen, but this popular result was countered by the arrival of a dithering doctor (David Morris) who noisily revived him. There were hints in the accompanying dialogue of the triumph of the men of Winchelsea over the Moors (many present remembering only too well the Winchelsea fleet that liberated Lisbon in 1147), but the main targets insulted in the text were nearer to home and included Southern Rail, Winchelsea Farm Foods, the Jurats, and Winchelsea’s claim to be a corporation.
The cast was expertly and very necessarily supported by the Prompt (Jackie Morris) and a Base Fellow (John Clarke) who held up placards instructing the audience what to do (‘Hurrah’, ‘Hiss’, ‘Discreet Titters’). Nobody paid him any attention. Mr Terry Hulf’s Sessions Band, however, was magnificent.
Whether this event does indeed become a Winchelsea tradition remains to be seen, particularly given what we heard about Winchelsea’s democratic deficit, but the audience’s reaction was nothing if not enthusiastic and everyone certainly enjoyed themselves hugely.