Friday, 11 January 2019

The Foresters Morris Men Plough Play Tour 2018

Plough Monday fell on the 7th of January 2019 and making a mental note of that date, I find myself looking back at a Plough Monday event of 2018. Plough Monday is an ancient and almost forgotten custom, remembered only by a few and kept alive by even less. Traditionally this date which should be the first Sunday after Epiphany (the 6th of January), would mark the commencement of the agricultural year in England.

Many varied customs have been associated with Plough Monday with distinct regional differences. A common feature however, was the hauling of a plough from house to house collecting money. This procession would have been accompanied by musicians and various persons performing a seasonal mummer’s play. Which brings me very nicely to a contemporary performance in Beeston, Nottinghamshire. The one I attended in 2018.

I was well aware that the performers from that well known Morris side the Foresters Morris, would be gathering at the market square in Beeston. I chose instead to make my way to the first pub on their list and meet them for the 8pm stop at the Hop Pole. I did not want to stand in the cold, I wanted a pint.

It was past 8pm when the first member of the troop wandered into the bar of the Hop Pole, a soldier. He laid the basic story or introduction before the assembly and he was soon joined by other characters, one by one performing their piece. A fool, two dames, the most mature farm boy I have ever seen, a quack doctor and eventually, Beelzebub himself. Not a plough in sight but the laudable object of the evening; to raise money for local good causes, maintained that traditional money collecting aspect.

The play performed is a ‘traditional’ Nottinghamshire variant of the Plough Mumming Play or rather as traditional as it can be. The play performed being a very clever composite of three of four, all documented in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire during the early twentieth century.

It is a recruitment play in which the ‘sergeant’ attempts to press varying members of the troop, by presenting them with the King’s shilling. There is a dispute over the paternity of the baby carried by one of the dames, which is itself extremely entertaining. The baby is a boy because he rattles when shaken and he is thrown back and forth, between dame and supposed father many times. One character is killed by the devil, this representing the death of the Old Year but the character is resurrected by the doctor. This of course represents the birth of the New Year. So we see a common folkloric motif displayed, that of the seasons.

The same format that same basic script, is performed gain and again at each stop. Never are the performers word perfect, nor is each performance identical to the previous but rather we witness a variation of a theme. Each is highly entertaining and pleasing to the surprised crowd in each pub.

Moving from the Hop Pole, I joined the troop as an unofficial hanger on. Taking up a suitable position in the Commercial Inn by about 8.30pm, to witness the proceedings over gain and to document them with my camera. Here I could see that the ‘show’ was warming up and the large audience were getting very involved, booing and hissing Beelzebub almost like a pantomime bad guy. After a brief explanation of the performance the troop moved through the crowd collecting money, before waving goodbye and heading for the next stop.

We arrived at the Bendigo Lounge well before 9pm but here it all went wrong. I shuffled in and took position on a staircase, this should have given me a good view of the play. In comes our sergeant who begins his usual spiel but mid-flow, he was stopped by a member of staff. We were asked to leave and I cannot over estimate how shocking this was. The stops for the play are decided far in advance, they are not at all random and each visit is done with the permission of the management. To have the agreement rescinded, without explanation and the proceedings halted so rudely, was disgraceful.

As we left the lounge I told the young man concerned; whose accent was not local, that he was making a fool of himself. I do not believe he understood a word I said, as his reply was a curt, ‘Thank you.’ As a result of this incident and in contradiction to all the other stops, I am unable to give the Bendigo Lounge a positive review or recommend the restaurant in any way. Indeed and unfortunately, I find myself doing just the opposite and can only advise against patronage of this restaurant.

We gathered ourselves together and made our way to the Malt Shovel, rather earlier than planned obviously. Here we were welcomed and although not a busy bar, the audience were certainly entertained. The barman on duty was probably more amused that his customers and I suspect the play was the highlight of his evening.

Soon we were at the Crown Inn and once again, a warm welcome, an active crowd and some rather bemused bar staff. I don’t think they had ever seen anything quite like this play before. The same format, the same welcome and the same bemused looks from the bar staff were again found at the White Lion across from the tram terminus.

I have visited this pub once or twice before. I am not however, a regular. I was pleasantly surprised however, when the landlord recognised me. I had attended a performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ here in this pub just before Christmas (see link #3 below) and I had enjoyed a rather pleasing whisky on the recommendation of this gentleman. The pub is something of a hub with regards community happenings and always warm in its welcome.

Since we were running ahead of time thanks to the unfortunate happenings earlier in the evening, I could of course have a drink here. This gentlemanly licensee of the White Lion not only remembered my previous visit, he could remember precisely which whiskies I had tried and which one I had preferred. That is what I call knowledge of your clientele. I was very impressed.

Our last call of the night was the nearby Star Inn at about 10pm. The troop ran through their now familiar (to me) performance with enthusiasm, again to the amusement of the public and bemusement of the staff. Looking back I can honestly say that the experience was educational and enjoyable. The Foresters Morris should be commended for their commitment in keeping the custom alive and for their excellent charity work. I do not know how much money was raised for local good causes in Beeston that night but I am led to believe in was a three figure sum. Therefore it gives me pleasure to wish the Foresters Morris great success with their future Plough Play performances.

Monday, 7 January 2019

A Christmas Carol at the White Lion Beeston Nottingham

I am looking back at my activities over the last few years and I find myself quite daunted by the backlog of work, for which I have only myself to blame. Here halfway through the twelve days of Christmas my mind is still focused upon the Christmastide. I am thinking that are few things more appropriate for this time of year than carol services and of course ghost stories. Charles Dickens being one of the more obvious authors within that genre.

On the 13th of December 2017 I visited the town of Beeston, a suburb of the city of Nottingham. Here in a public house called the White Lion, centrally located near the tram and bus terminus, I attended a performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ performed by the ‘Much Ado About Theatre’ company.

It was a cold, dark evening. Ideally suited for such an atmospheric play but inconvenient for travel. I arrived early and found two crowds gathering in the pub. The White Lion is quite obviously a community hub locally, as it hosts a regular monthly meeting of a storytelling gathering. I even recognised two or three people attending that. The storytelling meeting has the upper function room as a regular booking and unfortunately due to a clash of dates, the play was relegated to the bar.

Naturally I wanted a drink while I was waiting for the performance to commence and therefore enquired at the bar for a whisky. The range was extensive and the prices ranged from high to low. My usual was not on sale and I was undecided on what to try. The young man that served me was equally unsure what to recommend and sought advice from the landlord. This person was a tall, distinguished looking West Indian gentleman and his knowledge of whiskey was extensive. He recommended two particular drinks, I had one before the play and the second after.

The players confined as they were to one end of the open-plan barroom, made excellent use of the space provided. A large curtain provided the necessary backdrop and hid the players during costume changes. The play was performed by an itinerant troop and as is usual with this kind of performance, each player took multiple parts bar one. As is the norm the lead role of the adult Scrooge was played by one actor, who took no other roles for the sake of continuity.

Performing a straight, no frills but entertaining interpretation of the play, these nine actors; Fraser Wanless, Sylvia Robson, Nick Parvin, Emily Hall, Peter Radford, Konrad Skubis, Hannah Breedon, Jennifer Reckless and James Parnham, played between them twenty-two parts. The variations being indicated by costume change, body posture and accent. Props were as expected minimal, as was the furniture. So there was the usual pretence of imaginary doors, boxes and other items, all suggested to the imagination of the audience.

The performance was competent, entertaining and worth the journey. I hope that I will be able to catch this imaginative and talented troop again, taking advantage of some future opportunity. Leaving the White Lion I faced a cold night, as it had begun to snow. Yet this merely added to the post performance ambiance that I carried with me on the journey.

I was able to reflect on the journey home as I often do, on the strange English tradition of ghost stories during the Christmas tide. Whether it is Dickens or James it remains a living tradition and perhaps is a puzzling one. Is it because of the darkness that surrounds us that our thoughts turn inwards and we reflect upon the otherworld? Whatever the reasoning, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is my own personal tradition. Every year I endeavour to see at least one performance, watch a film adaptation, listen to an audio book or a radio play. Perhaps I will savour the unique pleasure of reading the short story once again. This performance by the ‘Much Ado About Theatre’ was part of my tradition, important to me as part of the fabric of my Christmas Tide and the story woven is of a golden thread.


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war.

And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

The speech of the King given before Harfleur: from King Henry V Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Speech to the Troops at Tilbury delivered by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in August 1588

My loving people; We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the meantime, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Peace of the Roses (Anon. 1486)

“I love the Rose both Red and White,
Is that your pure perfect appetite?
To hear talk of them is my delight;
Joyed may we be, our Prince to see,
In Roses three”.