Article type

Edited by Eddie Cass and Peter Millington

Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003

264 pp., 0-9508152-3-3, Price £16 + £4 p&p

We are seeking advance orders for the papers from the International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, which are due to be published under the title Folk Drama Studies Today in October 2003. This will be a limited edition, and if you want a copy, you must place your order by Tuesday 22nd September 2003 at the latest.

The published proceedings contain twelve full papers, synopses of three others, and a workshop transcript. They are all by acknowledged experts in the field, and the volume is generously illustrated with photographs, maps, and facsimiles.

This book will simply be a "must have" for anyone with a serious interest in folk drama.


Most of the papers are on the play in Great Britain. Both Duncan Broomhead and Derek Schofield chose to talk in depth about single local traditions, the Alderley Mummers and the Uttoxeter Guisers respectively. Two papers dealt with aspects of sword dance plays. Christopher Cawte discussed the 19th century literature on the sword dance play in County Durham, and the Earsdon play in particular. Paul Smith on the other hand investigated the Papa Stour sword dance text, which Walter Scott famously used in his novel The Pirate.

Tom Pettitt and Sandra Billington are both interested in medieval parallels with modern folk plays. Tom Pettitt spoke on the typology of revels and games in terms of context, content and form, while Sandra Billington looked at games played around the midsummer solstice and how they were connected to the scourging of Christ in Mystery and Passion plays.

Peter Millington’s paper sought to break the impasse on the textual analysis of British and Irish folk Quack Doctor plays, reporting major analyses using graphical and computerised techniques. These revealed (a) evidence for a single ancestral text, (b) a revised classification scheme, and (c) a proposed genealogy for the plays. In another ‘text’-based paper Michael Preston looked at the three major families of chapbooks, and argued that each contains evidence that is frequently misread (or ignored) concerning their composition, and contemporaneous regional traditions.

Two sessions related to folk play collectors. A loosely structured session - published here verbatim - concerned the late Alex Helm, who was the driving force behind research led to the publication of the influential English Ritual Drama. His close colleagues Christopher Cawte and Norman Peacock presented valuable insights how their group ‘worked’, and others went on to discuss offorts to make Helm's Collection at University College London more accessible to today’s scholars. In a similar vein, Eddie Cass discussed a second major collector - James Madison Carpenter – and the on-going project to catalogue his collection.

Three of the papers discussed non-British mumming and folk plays. Terry Gunnell’s intriguingly titled, ‘Waking the "Wiggle-Waggle" Monsters’ dealt with animal figures and cross dressing in the Icelandic Vikivaki games. George Mifsud-Chircop’s paper on Carnival and New Year’s Eve drama in Malta looked at two ritual drama practices in Malta and Gozo. Finally, in this group, John Widdowson reported field work he had done in the 1960s on the tradition of ‘mummering’ plays in Newfoundland.

Abstracts of two papers by Neill Martin and Emily Lyle respectively cover methods of entry, and transformations of 'Galoshins' in the 20th century. An extended synopsis of an audio-illustrated paper by Peter Robson sought to establish a rationale for the choice of songs in Dorset mummers’ plays, and considered why one song (‘Husbandman and Servingman’) was by far the most popular choice.

An illustrated report on the conference appeared in Traditional Drama Forum, No.6.