Chas Marshall & Stuart Rankin
London, Dockside Studio, 2003, 56pp., A4, Price £4.95 + p&p
Anybody interested in trying to understand the broad history of the folk play in Britain is inevitably indebted to those scholars who are prepared to produce local histories of the play in their own areas. Such a study is this one by Chas Marshall and Stuart Rankin on the Blue Stots tradition of Yorkshire. The regrettably short work is the result of more than twenty years study into their own play tradition and the revival which arose from performances in which they have taken part.
The opening section of the book consists of a general survey of the types of folk play to be seen in Yorkshire, including the pace-egg plays of the West Riding and the longsword dances of the more northern areas. The authors then describe their search for the defining characteristics of the play which was typical of the period from after Christmas and up to Plough Monday in the villages of the Vale of York and the area immediately around. They use the term 'Blue Stots' and suggest that these plays should be seen as a sub-group of the hero combat play. Steve Roud and I had expressed the view that regional research of this kind would produce new sub-groups (E.Cass & S.Roud, 2002) – the 'hero-combat play' is not as helpful a term as it might be. It is encouraging to see this work. The defining characteristics include the time of performance, text, name given to the performers, the names of the individual characters in the play and the style of dress and "make up". The authors then model a typical Blue Stots play and in the course of this modelling describe aspects of many plays from their area. The final narrative section of the book deals with the revival of the play – 'The Return of the Blue Stots' of the title.
The book is well illustrated with photographs of early performers as well as those of the revival. It has some valuable charts tabulating the results of the authors' researches although the blanks in some of the charts indicate the difficulty in assembling information on the early plays. There are also sample texts including the appropriate section of a William walker Peace Egg chapbook.
In their 'Acknowledgments' the authors record the influence of Cawte, Helm and Peacock's (1967) English Ritual Drama on their work, but how I wish they had not used the complex, and unhelpful, referencing system used in ERD. Having a special research interest in chapbooks, I alighted on the remark 'It was also noted that the Harrogate Blue Stots Playwas taken from cheap booklet which was on sale in the Market Hall for one pre-decimal penny.' (p.7). The reference given is 'VauC' which translates into 'The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: the collection' – not easy to follow up!