Buy Tickets on-line

No booking fee!

An Introduction

Peterborough Performance    History    Types of Play    Mummers Plays Today    Further Information


Mummers plays have been performed throughout the British Isles for many hundreds of years but seem to have rose to prominence in medieval times. Originally they were dumb shows (hence to mum from the Middle English meaning to remain silent), however, over time words, rhyme, and song were added. Rather confusingly, few actors actually refer to themselves as Mummers but go under such titles as Plough Jags, Tipteerers, Christmas Rhymers, Soulers, Pace – Eggers, Plough Bullocks or Guisers.

Performances were solely made by men, often plough boys or farm workers and most popularly celebrated the legend of St. George, though there are regional variations. The plays were purposefully short in form and passed on by word of mouth. They were devised such that they could be performed quickly at a landowner or wealthy persons house, with the main aim being to solicit money, drink or food in return for entertainment. The wonder and excitement of the play is captured here :-

“But yester-eve, and the mummers were here! They had come striding into the old kitchen, powdering the red brick floor with snow from their barbaric bedizenements; and stamping, and crossing, and declaiming, till all was whirl and riot and shout ……”

Brevity and speed were thus of utmost importance to the cast! It was also deemed good form to keep a low profile before and after the performance, thereby adding to and retaining the mystery surrounding the origin of the plays themselves. Δ

Types of Play:

bulletHero/ Combat Play
By far the most widespread type of play revolving around the hero, normally St. George who challenges all-comers to a fight. The challenging knight is often a Turkish knight who once dead is revived by a quack-doctor with dubious potions. There is also the lamenter being normally the mother or wife of the knight. One rarer sub-group of this category is where Robin Hood is the central character.
bulletWooing, bridal or recruiting sergeant play
Often referred to as the plough play as it was traditionally performed around Plough Monday. The plays are peculiar to the mid eastern counties of England and particularly Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Rutland. The play involves the various unsuccessful attempts by a clown, a fool, or a recruiting sergeant trying to woo a young lady.
bulletSword Dance play
Really confined to the North Eastern counties of England, namely Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. It revolves around a sword dance which at one point involves interlocking swords used to chop off a man’s head. The quack doctor, clown or female then revive the victim. This sequence was used to great effect in the cult film The Wicker Man. Δ

Mummers Plays Today

The plays have survived in various forms right up to the present day but due to elements of fluidity within an unwritten folklore tradition have rendered the original meaning contained in the plays to be lost. However, the tradition of the theatrical dame being played by a man may well have some link with the original plays where the lady or damsel was indeed played by a man. Most groups around today were formed out of the post WWII folk revival movement and have sought to re-establish local plays within the tradition for which it was originally intended. Δ

Further Information

An Introduction to the English Mummers’ Play by E. Cass & S. Roud-published by the English folk Dance and Song Society. See

The excellent National Centre for English Cultural Tradition, University of Sheffield website  Δ

Peterborough Mummers' Play

The first performance took place on Saturday 25th June at the Peterborough Festival to a small, but appreciative audience.
Click a thumb nail to see a larger image

(Use your 'Back' button to return)
The mummers:
Ray Livermore, Mark Lambeth (as Robin Hood), Carol Wadey (Little John), Ronald Stevenson and Michael Black.
Performances also took place on 30th July and 5th August as part of
'Kings & Liberties', the Huntingdon 800 community play.Δ

Huntingdon Drama Club