Here in Cheshire we do our mummers plays around All Souls Day and they're called Soul Caking plays, (regular readers of this blog will know all about our long standing connections with Jones' Ale Soul Cakers in Chester), but over in the Pennines they do some funny things, so there the plays take place near Easter and are called Pace Egg plays.
Well, as yesterday was Good Friday,we headed over to Heptonstall to see the Pace Egg play. We stopped in Hebden Bridge a while, caught a street performance of a Pace Egg play by some young lads, had lunch at the ever excellent Greens Vegetarian Café, then set off for the very steep walk up The Buttress to the hilltop village of Heptonstall.
The place was packed, several hundred people had turned out to see this annual tradition. In this respect it is very different to our performances in Chester, where half of the idea is to surprise unwitting drinkers and expose them to a bit of tradition they haven't encountered before. But I do like the idea of playing to an enormous crowd who have turned up because they want to see it happen.
Before the play began there was some morris dancing by the Hill Millies, a local women's side dancing the Cotswold tradition but notable for their costume of cleaner's tabard and headscarf and yellow dusters in place of white handkerchiefs.
Then into the cobbled square processed the Pace Eggers, and began their play. It's broadly similar to the soul caking plays of Cheshire, St George encounters various foes, who challenge him, one is killed and resurrected by a doctor, and a fool character enters last of all to conclude the play and begin the collection. In Chester this fool is Beelzebub, in Heptonstall he's Toss Pot. There are a couple more character than "our" play, but it is perhaps fitting to find that Andy Carter, a friend I met through shared interest in bagpipes, turns out to be the regular Prince Paradise at Heptonstall, the same role which I've most commonly played in Chester.
The setting is perfect, especially on a gloriously sunny day as it was, the crowd, easily three hundred people, help shape the performance space, and instead of the confines of a pub performance which I'm used to, the Pace Eggers have a wide cobbled space to make free with much more waving of swords, juggling and very convincing fights.
They are great performers, and this is a very friendly community tradition in a beautiful place. It's been several years since we last watched it there, I don't intend the gap to be so long next time.