Sidmouth ‘mummers’ turn to technology and perform traditional play on video

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 July 2020

The fatberg, played by Sarah Reis. Picture: Sarah Reis

The fatberg, played by Sarah Reis. Picture: Sarah Reis

Sarah Reis

A traditional ‘mumming‘ play that was going to be performed on the streets of Sidmouth has been made into a video during the coronavirus lockdown.

The pickaxe queen, played by Liz Harris.  Picture: Liz HarrisThe pickaxe queen, played by Liz Harris. Picture: Liz Harris

Local storyteller and writer Janet Dowling created the play, which celebrates notable women of Sidmouth through the ages, and also features a dragon, a saint, a pickaxe-wielding queen, the Sidmouth Plastic Warriors and the town’s notorious fatberg.

She explained that mumming is traditionally performed by men in midwinter, but she decided to turn the tradition on its head by developing a midsummer play for an all-female group.

She said: “Mumming is a very old tradition, dating from medieval times, and most of the plays that are still done are from the 19th century.

“They feature heroes like St George and Nelson, with villains like the Turkish knights and dragons.

“Sidmouth is lucky that they have a mummers team who have a play from 200 years ago, which they take out just before Christmas.

“I’m an avid supporter of them, but I also felt that women should have a go.

“It took about two years to develop the play, but it wasn’t until the fatberg raised its head that the final character fell into place.

“Originally we hoped to do it at Sidmouth Sea Fest, on the streets for midsummer, and then at Sidmouth Folk Festival.

“We called ourselves Sidmouth Sisters Guisers, an alternative name for mummers, and started rehearsals in the beginning of March.

“Then we were into lockdown. I thought it was never going to happen.

“But I was inspired by the Mayday videos that were made by Morris teams videoing themselves individually on their phones and then stitching it together.

“So we practised on Zoom, and then each speech was recorded separately on our phones. Kyle Baker did his magic and stitched them in to one video. We are not the Royal Shakespeare Company and there are several bloopers - but that’s all part of the fun.

“There are several motifs from the mummers’ play, but most importantly the women of Sidmouth heroes are real, and we feel it’s a community celebration.”

The Sidmouth Sisters Guisers are Janet Dowling, Linda Williams, Ruth Lewis, Ann Bishop, Alexa Baker, Barbara Murphy, Sheila Pratt, Sarah Reis and Liz Harris. Music was played by Brian Lewis.


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