Ashdown Mummers, St George and the Turkish Knight

Review in Issue 14-1 | Spring 2002

On the weekend before Xmas, the Ashdown Mummers took their tale of the battle of good and evil to the hostelries of Sussex, racing from pub to pub in full costume and make-up with a band of loyal followers tearing behind.

The origins of the play are lost in the mists of time – it is linked to the medieval miracle plays, and shares with commedia dell’arte the tradition of a travelling troupe presenting a story in which each of the archetypal characters is played by an actor who keeps that role for life. Characters such as the Doctor, Beelzebub and Old Father Christmas himself, dressed in traditional green not Coca-Cola red.

The story is a simple one, an allegorical tale of life versus death – as represented by St George and his combatant the Turkish Knight. Performed at the winter solstice, it celebrates the rebirth of the light and regeneration of nature. After a fearsome battle, the Turk is vanquished – and St George is restored to life by the kiss of a fair maiden (usually the pub barmaid).

The Ashdown Mummers have been performing this play for two decades – ‘and they’re no better now than they were then’ says one fond admirer. It’s true that they’re not the best actors in the world – but that is hardly the point. In restoring the Sussex Mummers tradition, they have done a great service, reminding us that the roots of theatre lie in the folk ritual dramas. It’s all a matter of taste ultimately – if the idea of a hearty band of lusty-voiced men in tatters and bells appeals, then seek them out next year. If not – stay out of the woods of Sussex.

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Ashdown Forest Pubs

Date Seen
  1. Dec 2001

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-1
p. 26