Introducting newcomers to a traditional form of drama

The Bradshaw Mummers at the Furness Tradition Festival in Ulverston, Cumbria
The Bradshaw Mummers at the Furness Tradition Festival in Ulverston, Cumbria

England’s folk traditions get a rough ride among the uninitiated but one group of strolling players are doing their best to redress the balance.

The Bradshaw Mummers are a Halifax-based street theatre group, founded at the Bradshaw Tavern Folk Club back in 1972.

They are about to enter their 44th season with a series of Open Evenings to introduce newcomers to an ancient form of drama brought up to date for the 21st Century.

Mummer’s plays are based around two basic themes, good versus evil and death and resurrection.

Phil Lyon, Secretary of the group, said: “Most plays feature a hero figure, St George is a common choice but it can be any similar historical equivalent – our Battle of Trafalgar Play features Lord Nelson – and he takes on and defeats a series of villains. A quack doctor then revives them. Good defeats evil and Spring succeeds Winter.”

Presented in their original form, the plays would appear dry to modern day audiences, so Bradshaw, in common with other groups, have brought them up to date with the emphasis on entertainment, both visual and verbal.

Phil said: “We play for laughs with as many gags and jokes as the script will bear, but always staying true to the spirit of mumming.”

Rehearsals begin early in the New Year with a script chosen from the team’s catalogue of around 20, most of them written by members of the side, and the team will then meet weekly, building towards a first public outing in mid-April/early May.

After that it’s out on the road with appearances at major folk festivals and folk-related street events up and down the country.

Phil said: “Our 2016 programme included appearances at Upton on Severn, Chester, Long Itchington, Bacup, Ulverston, Bromyard and our now regular date with the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival.

“2017 is already taking shape with the annual Cuckoo Day Festival in Marsden and a return to Warwick Festival at the end of July.

“We’ve made scores of friends around the country over the years and we spend most of the time on arrival at festivals renewing old friendships.

“Throw in the music which brought us together in the first place and the result is enjoyment all round.”

Phil also stressed that Bradshaw are a family-based group with wives and girlfriends very much part of the off-stage planning and, since a certain amount of travelling is required, ownership of a tent or caravan is an advantage.

In common with some other traditional sides, Bradshaw ‘black-up’ for their performances, a practice which dates back to mumming’s origins when the plays were often performed by agricultural workers, poorly paid at the best of times but even less so in the winter months.

Phil said: “To supplement their meagre wages, the workers would black their faces so as not to be recognised by the landlords for whom they worked. It was a disguise, nothing more complex than that.”

Unfortunately, pressure is growing in some quarters against blacking up and Bradshaw will adapt accordingly.

With 43 seasons behind them and more, all being well, to come, Bradshaw Mummers are holding two Open Evenings in the New Year on Wednesday January 11 and Wednesday January 18 at the Arden Road Social Club/Arch-Way Project in Halifax when newcomers will be given a full run down on what mumming involves.

Phil said: “We’ll give them all the information they need, answer their questions and then hand out a few scripts and take them through what theatre in the round involves. If they like what they see and fancy having a go, the aim is to make them permanent members of the side.”

If anyone would like any more information, they can contact Phil on 01274 675985 or or team Squire John Schorah on 01422 345170 or