Tipton, Christmas 1976

‘Who ay a Doctor? I’ll crack yer nut. Look, this is me susstificut!’ cries out Dr Brown, one of the characters performing in the Mummers Play at Wood Street Community Centre, Tipton, in December 1976. Parental Advisory Warning – the play features some cross-dressing.

Thor and Loki did it in the Norse Tales. Hercules was supposed to dress as a woman while the slave of Omphale. Shakespeare had female characters who dressed up as men. To confuse matters, there was a time in his England when it was illegal for women to perform in theatres, so female roles in his plays and those of his contemporary playwrights were originally played by cross-dressing men or boys. Early performances from Jubilee Theatre and Community Arts enjoyed keeping up this gender switching tradition, especially in the festive season, no doubt fortified by lashings of sherry and eggnog.

They began with this Mummers play, performed in Black Country dialect, first staged outside Woolworths in West Brom at Christmas 1974 and revived a few times after. Tradition has it that these ‘comedies’ were performed during the festive season, though sometimes also on All Souls Day or at Easter. Characters usually featured included one King George III, a certain Boldgiah (the hero knight), Father Christmas, Dr Brown, Beelzebub and Devildoubt. They battled each other until one was killed. The Jubilee version, based on an old script preserved by a local family, renamed the Hero ‘Hector the Turkish Knight’, gave him a mother, ‘Mrs Slasher’, King George was transformed into ‘St. George’, and the character of Devildoubt became ‘Safety Sam’, a hapless referee who oversees the fight scenes.

More information: jubileeartsarchive.com/mummers-play-1974/