VIDEO: GALLERY: March theatre group brings early 19th Century plays back to life to perform in town’s pubs

PUB-GOERS were treated to 19th Century-style plays from a March theatre group normally performed by plough boys raising money to enjoy Christmas. March Mummers’ star Stuart Broad explains why the group descended on the town’s bars:

A man walked into a bar dressed in an interesting costume. He is followed by a man dressed as a devil and another in a medieval kings outfit...

This is not the beginning of a bad joke. It is a description of the start of the traditional folkplay performed by March Mummers, at The Acre on Saturday, which was also repeated at The Stars and The Ship.

The performers Marcus Phillips (as King George), Rodney Crabb (Beelzebub), Stuart Broad (The Doctor), Maureen James (The Fool), Mike Thomas (Jack) and Steve Cornell (Dame Jane), with Keith and Karen Cheale providing musical accompaniment, were reviving a tradition that used to be very common in the late nineteenth century.

The play used to be performed by plough boys at this time of year, when their was little work on the land, in order to raise money to help them to have a good Christmas.

Mummers’ Plays are winter folk-plays that were once performed in many towns and villages across an area that stretched from the south coast of England up to, and including, the central lowlands and parts of the southern uplands of Scotland. Commonly known as ‘Quack Doctor Plays’, due to so many of them including this character, sadly many died out in the early part of the last century.

We weren’t raising money for ourselves, however, we raised �51 for FACET through collections after each performance.

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The folk play that the March Mummers performed was collected in 1989 from a Mr Shepherd in Whittlesey by Michael Schaschke, of Benwick, when he was working in an old people’s home.

Next year we will be working on a different play that was also performed in Fenland. It will still be a ‘Quack Doctor Play’, so I can still wear my Victorian costume and will still be ‘bringing someone back to life again!’

Mark Lavendar, who watched the play at both The Acre and The Ship, said: “Its absolutely brilliant, its nice to see some traditional stuff going on. I love going to Straw Bear to see that tradition. You learn about these traditions at school but you don’t get many people doing them.”