In 1986, Ripon celebrated 1100 years of existence as a City, based on the claim of the granting of a Charter in the form of a night watchman’s horn by King Alfred the Great. The office-bearer whose responsibility it was to set the nightly curfew or “watch” by blowing the horn, was called the “Wakeman” because he stayed awake all night to guard he City and keep the peace.) So in that year, Wakeman Mummers came into being to create a “new tradition”, with a short play in the Mumming style. The idea of the play is to tell, simply and with humour, the story of the granting of Ripon’s Charter in 886AD coupled with the name of the City’s Patron, St Wilfrid.
They subsequently researched two traditional plays which are
performed over the Christmas season in the villages of origin, Skelton-on-Ure and Topcliffe.
They have also written several items in the same style that can be performed at any time of the year, especially in the Autumn, when a more recent Wakeman tradition has been to do a Pub Tour in Wensleydale, with their irreverent take on alcohol and marriage, entitled “The Drinker”.
Mummers’ costumes are fairly simple: a tatter-coat and a hat decorated with ribbons and other ornaments, and with the actors’ faces only crudely disguised with black or white make-up. The original reason for blacking the faces is supposed to be to make the actors anonymous – the St Wilfrid Play has developed this idea by adapting to a white face with dark eye-sockets for the two “ghosts”: St Wilfrid and King Alfred.
The mumming tradition demands that proper acting is kept to a minimum, since the words are more important than the actors themselves. Lines are spoken in rhyme, which keeps the play moving along at a brisk pace, whilst telling the story using Ripon’s own characters from both the present and the past.