The proceedings of this conference have been published in Folk Drama Studies Today , edited by Eddie Cass & Peter Millington , Sheffield, TDRG, 2003. The page numbers are given accordingly for each paper.

Conference date(s)
Friday, 19 July, 2002 to Sunday, 21 July, 2002

International Traditional Drama Conference 2002

  • Cover and Front Matter


    Front cover, title page and contents list of the published proceedings.

  • Introduction

    Eddie Cass


    Introduction to the published conference proceedings.

  • The Alderley Mummer’s Play: A Story of Survival and Revival

    Duncan Broomhead


    The Alderley Mummers' Play was revived around 1820 by Samuel Barber, a tenant farmer on Lord Stanley's estate in Nether Alderley, Cheshire. The play was subsequently passed down through four generations of the Barber family and became a regular feature of the Christmas festivities at Alderley Park, until the estate was broken up and sold in 1937.

    This paper examines the revivals and changes that the play underwent, reflecting the master/tenant relationship of the two families. In addition the paper includes a comment on some of the 'revival' sides that have appeared since Helm first published the text in 1955.

  • "Christmas at Uttoxeter: The Guisers Made their Usual Tour"

    Derek Schofield


    At a time when there are now very few "traditional" mummers plays still being performed, it is perhaps surprising that a play in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire is still performed every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with very little involvement from folklorists and the folk revival.

    There are references to the play in the town since at least the 1890s, and there is evidence that it has been performed almost every year since then. Today, the play is performed by members of one family.

    This paper outlines the recorded history of the performances of the play using personal recollections, newspaper references and the personal observations of the writer since 1979. In particular, the paper concentrates on the people involved in performance, the importance of family relationships, the costume and the locations of performance through the twentieth century - all the ingredients that make up the "usual tour".

  • County Durham, the Oldest Known Sword Dance Play Text

    Christopher Cawte


    The first of this series of play texts from County Durham was written by Topliff and is dated about 1815, the oldest known sword dance play text, if incomplete. Comparison shows that only two of the eight later sources studied contain any significant original text. The evidence is entirely literary, without any significant information about the dance, but some of the characters in the calling-on song are found in other such plays in the three north-eastern counties. Tunes similar to the one for this song are also found elsewhere, and an objective method is offered for determining which tunes are related. The performers were pitmen, and this can be added to the other points in the song tune and text to conclude that the text may have come from an area a few miles west of Sunderland. Such a sword dance, with six dancers, presumably a sword dance, would be well north of those already known from County Durham, but there are also significant connections with the Earsdon rapper performance, which itself presents some problems about is origin.

    This preliminary clarification of one set of data tests some methods which could be used for a more detailed and widespread comparison of other sword dances.

  • Sir Walter Scott and the Sword Dance from Papa Stour, Shetland: Some Observations

    Paul Smith

  • The Folk Interlude: Dramatic Aspects of Traditional Games, Gambols and Songs

    Tom Pettitt


    The dramatic and semi-dramatic games associated with Christmas revels, lyke-wakes and harvest homes, etc. are a significant segment of traditional drama independent of (and with a better-documented history than) the mummers' plays, to whose development they may nonetheless have made some contribution. The independent games also have intriguing relationships with conventional theatre history (e.g. via the interlude, the jig and the droll). While offering sporadic documentation of these theses, the paper is structured as an attempted typology of games in terms of context, content and form.

  • Tormentors in Passion Play: Connections with Traditional Midsummer Play

    Sandra Billington


    This paper looks at evidence, from France and England between 1390 and 1590, for games of truth-telling, or slander, and for non-domestic charivari played at and around the midsummer solstice: why these might have been allowed, and how they were connected to the scourging of Christ in Mystery and Passion plays.

  • Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries

    Peter Millington


    Many questions remain regarding the actual origins of English Quack Doctor plays now that pre-Shakespearean theories of origin have collapsed. While it seems likely that the plays were added to pre-existing house-visiting customs in the early- to mid-18th century, and that they were influenced by contemporary theatrical conventions, the ultimate source for the texts is still unknown.

    With few notable exceptions, there has been a marked reluctance to analyse the texts of English folk plays. Partly this has been because key scholars believed the “actions” of the plays to pre-eminent and the texts to be irrelevant and partly because of the daunting enormity of the task. This paper breaks the impasse by reporting major analyses of the large collection of texts that are available online at These have been done with the assistance of graphical methods and computerised techniques such as cluster analysis.

    There are three main results. Firstly, evidence is presented for a single proto-text that was ancestral to all versions. The lines that this proto-text probably contained have been identified, and assembled into an initial tentative reconstruction. Secondly, the analyses yield a new classification for the plays that both confirms and extends the earlier schemes, but under two principal classes rather than three. The Hero-Combat Plays are divided into seven subclasses, of which one comprises the Sword Dance Plays that were previously regarded as distinct. The Plough Plays are divided into two subclasses – the Multiple Wooing Plays and the Recruiting Sergeant Plays. Lastly, the evolutionary relationships between the various classes are considered, which lead to a proposed genealogy of the plays.

  • Reading Chapbooks Closely: Gleaning Evidence about their Composition, History, and Relationship to Oral Traditions

    Michael Preston


    It has long been known that humans learn scripts (or whatever term one might prefer) for understanding the world about them. This applies to ordering a meal in a restaurant as much as to reading a book. One learns various scripts in studying folklore, and not knowing - or applying - the relevant script may often be seen as a basic cause for confusion.

    The history of the study of the traditional drama of Britain seems to me to be filled with examples of individuals following various and sometimes conflicting scripts, whether that of a concern with determining the origin of the tradition as a whole or of thinking about mumming as plays, in the sense of what is performed at Stratford-upon-Avon.

    This paper looks at examples of the three major families of chapbooks which have long been considered a part of the study of traditional drama - the Christmas Rhyme book, Alexander and the King of Egypt, and The Peace Egg - and argue that each contains evidence that is frequently misread (or ignored) concerning their composition, concerning their reflection of contemporary oral traditions, and concerning the various regional traditions that are signified by "traditional drama."

  • Discussion about Alex Helm and his Collection

    Christopher Cawte, Norman Peacock, Eddie Cass, Peter Millington, Paul Smith, Derek Schofield, et al

  • James Madison Carpenter: The Cataloguing of a Folklore Collection

    Eddie Cass


    James Madison Carpenter was an American who carried out fieldwork in England between 1928 and 1935. During this time he collected what must surely be one of the largest, if not the largest, compilation of British folk performance materials ever assembled. It is now held in the American Folklife Centre at the Library of Congress, Washington where access is inhibited because of a lack of an adequate catalogue. The collection includes some 300 folk play texts from England and Scotland.

    This paper discusses Carpenter and his collecting and discusses the work which is being done in a project based at the National Centre for English Cultural tradition at the University of Sheffield. This is a project which, starting with an on-line catalogue, will, we hope, ultimately result in a full critical edition of the whole collection.

  • Waking the “Wiggle-Waggle” Monsters (Animal figures and Cross Dressing in the Icelandic Vikivaki Games)

    Terry Gunnell


    The vikivaki (or, as some have translated it, the "wiggle-waggle") was a popular form of song-dance that seems to have been very much in fashion over a period of some two hundred years in Iceland. Parallel in many ways to the modern "acid house" gatherings, the vikivakievenings which commonly took place in large farmhouses some distance away from the authorities at around Christmas. They drew participants from near and far, for an evening of dance, song, large scale drinking and population replenishment. This, however, was not all that took place. The proceedings were also spiced up by a generous helping of dramatic entertainment, as various troll, animal and monster figures regularly appeared out of the smoke between dances to terrify and draw people into contact. For many commentators, this was the foundation that was later to lead on the establishment of formalised theatre in Iceland. The intention in this paper, however, is to re-examine the nature of the dance games that are associated with the vikivaki gatherings, their function and structure, as well as their roots. As I mean to demonstrate, in all likelihood, what we are seeing here is are the remains of a Scandinavian guising tradition (like that still practised in the Faroes and Shetland) which has adapted itself to the unique circumstances of the Icelandic environment as it was at this time.

    The vikivaki games (which I have previously touched on in my book, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia) can be divided into dramatic wooing games (most of which have direct parallels in Norway and Denmark) and then other dramatic activities centering around the visit of a figure from the wild to the "civilised" community, a figure which those inside then attempt to pacify. Various loose suggestions have been given for the origin of some of these animal games, which include a horse, a goat and a hart. Some suggest that the horse figure (which is shoed as part of an accompanying song) must have an origin in the Basque area of Spain. Others try to explain the candlelit "hart" that appears as a holy Christian symbol. Neither of these explanations makes much sense in the context of the tradition as it existed, or Icelandic history. As I mean to show, it is much more logical to consider the games – and the accounts about them – in the context of the popular dramatic traditions from neighbouring countries, i.e., Norway, Denmark, the Faroes and the British Isles, rather than in countries from farther afield. Seen in this light, they might then provide useful evidence for the nature of those traditions at the time they were imported to Iceland.

  • Past Carnival and New Year's Eve Drama in Malta

    George Mifsud-Chircop


    The aim of this paper is to describe and analyse two ritual drama practices in Malta and Gozo. Since mediaeval times carnival has always been accompanied by parades, masquerades, pageants, and other forms of revelry recalling pre-Christian pagan rites, particularly fertility rites. In Malta Carnival had been celebrated since at least the 15th century, coinciding with Europe’s carnivals which reached their peak during the 14th and 15th centuries. Later centuries also evince the popularity of a rustic folk drama, known as "Il-Qar'illa" [(ar 0 t •illa] with the lower classes.

    "Il-Qarin'a" [(a 0 rinza] was another magic-ritual drama celebrated on New Year’s Eve, still popular in fragmentation within living memory in Malta and Gozo. Here one discovers the grotesque representation of the death of the old year and the beginning of the new one. Both rituals are defined as the oldest know drama on the island, specifically the earliest fragments of Maltese comic theatre.

  • Chasing Shadows: retrieving the text and context of the Change Islands, Newfoundland, mummers' play

    John Widdowson


    Texts of the Change Islands mummers’ play have been published both in the popular press and in H. Halpert and G.M. Story, eds, Christmas Mumming in Newfoundland, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1969, 1990. The text has apparently also featured on at least two websites in recent years. All these texts derive from the recollections of the play by Mr. J.J. Peckford who saw the play performed some fifty years previously, and who believes that what he recalls is "pretty near the mark". They are quite full texts, with a cast of eleven characters, and a few details of performance and context.

    During my fieldwork on Change Islands and neighbouring Fogo Island in 1964 and 1965 I recorded some reminiscences of the play from oral tradition, including the recollections of three local men who remembered the play from their boyhood days, and also the memories of another man who actually took part. After such a time lapse, details of the text were fragmentary and somewhat confused, but nevertheless seem to confirm the uniqueness of the play when compared with other texts in M.J. Preston's KWIC Concordance of British Folk Play Texts. On the other hand, information on costume, performance, context and significance to the community, as well as on individuals who participated, add substantially to the existing record of the event. In particular, certain details of performance are strikingly similar to those in an early cine film of the Tichborne (Hampshire) play.

    Inevitably, the evidence from the oral tradition is in several respects at variance with the published texts. This raises major questions about the provenance of the published record, and the reliability of the oral testimony concerning a moribund tradition. Above all, it again challenges the concept of a given text or tradition having a fixed or definitive form; in fact its retrieval even from the not so distant past requires the presentation, analysis and reconciliation of a complex of diverse and sometimes contradictory evidence.

  • Entries

    Neill Martin


    The ways in which guisers and mummers ask for and gain entry to the home may seem at first to be a rather slight and esoteric topic. This paper seeks to demonstrate that seasonal rites involving ritual entry in fact form part of a range of complex threshold and boundary customs linked with life cycle traditions, the bardic orders and early law. Examples for analysis are taken mainly from Celtic language cultures and include the Mari Lywd and the rèiteach, a betrothal ritual from Gaelic Scotland. A structural model is offered which it is hoped will aid in the interpretation of these often highly complex threshold and boundary rituals.

  • Transformations of 'Galoshins' in the Twentieth Century

    Emily Lyle


    The transformations include those in age and gender of performers. There is a trace right at the beginning of the century of the play being performed by young men but it was predominantly performed by boys of school age. There are records, however, of performances by mixed groups of boys and girls and by girls alone and the factors enabling girls to perform can be examined. There is something of a diachronic shift from boys only to the inclusion of girls in the custom. There is also a change in season. The play had been performed at either Christmas/New Year or at Hallowe'en but most of the later records demonstrate a movement to Hallowe'en. At this time of year, the continued guising custom sometimes retained traces of the play after it ceased to be performed.

    Possible reasons for the demise of the custom will be explored, including changing attitudes to the requests for reward. In the course of the breaking-down of the custom, which was almost total by the middle of the century, it is possible to observe forces at work which sustained it for a while at the same time as they altered it. The norm had been boys learning orally from the performances of other boys, but later on fathers taught it to their children either by oral instruction or by writing out the words. There was more parental control and the houses visited became more restricted. The play was also performed on stage under adult supervision and, in these cases, recourse was often made to a ` text unconnected with local tradition.

    An interesting development was the performance of the play as a monologue by an adult, either seasonally or without regard to the season. These performances were based on memories of the play in performance by a group.

  • Songs in Dorset Mummers' Plays - Synopsis

    Peter Robson


    From the somewhat fragmentary evidence available on Dorset mummers' plays it seems that it was customary to finish the performance with a song. In some cases the titles or first lines have been recalled, in others there are sound recordings of the plays which have enabled the songs to be identified. This paper surveys the songs used by Dorset mummers, attempts to establish a rationale for the choice of material, and considers why one song ("Husbandman and Servingman") was by far the most popular choice. In conclusion it considers the value of mummers' plays as indicators of local song repertoire.

  • Notes on Contributors


    Brief biographies of all the contributors, as published.