New Yearís Day in Alvechurch, nowadays, has become synonymous with the Alvechurch Morris Mummerís Play at The Crown in Withybed Green. Hundreds of people make their way over the canal on the first day of the year to see the dancing, and the play. However, this has not always been the case.
Shortly after the formation of the side in 1989, it was suggested that we should perform a Mummerís Play on New Yearís Day. That decision was the start of a tradition, which still continues today. The first play was an amalgam of three traditional play-scripts, which were effectively "cut and pasted" together by the sideís, then foreman, and founder, Ian Wall. The principles of good v evil, and death and resurrection were established in that first play, albeit that the populace of Alvechurch did not realise that history was in the making. The audience for that first performance numbered no more than twenty.
On January 1st 1990, St. George was pitted against a Spanish king, and then an infidel Turkish knight. Needless to say that they were both vanquished only to be later resurrected by the Doctor and his able (?) assistant, Trotting Jack. Other characters included Beelzebub, Sweet Moll, Hindbefore, and Father Christmas. Props and costumes were kept to a bare minimum with most characters performing in their Morris kit. One of the only exceptions was Sweet Moll who donned a dress and the appropriate female appendages for the part.
The plays continued to be performed each year in much the same format until 1994. Whilst maintaining the traditional characters and dialogue, there was a noticeable move toward more theatrical performances, with much more emphasis being placed on costumes and props.
This change signalled the start of a tradition amongst the players i.e. each participant is responsible for his own costume, and this is never revealed to anyone else until the actual day - usually because costumes are never quite complete until the night before! The other parallel tradition which always makes for an interesting performance is that the dialogue is never the same as rehearsed, Everyone involved usual brings their own contributions which are performed for the first time on the day.
Over the years we have seen Beelzebub resplendent in quilted smoking jacket, with a very artistic red face, dressed in full evening jacket, and also in black leathers.
Sweet Moll has also appeared in a number of slinky black numbers. Spanish Kings, and Turkish Knights have appeared in a variety of outfits ranging from shorts and T shirt, to the full Ali Baba kit.
For the 1995 play the task of bard was taken on by Paul Chamberlain, following the departure of Ian Wall to pastures new. This change heralded a new era as Paul introduced topical characters such as the Sad Punter, who commented on local events during the preceding year and complains about the number of Morris Men crowding "his" local and those national people who had put their head above the parapet and made a complete arse of themselves such as the Froggy Farmer, Jeffery Lord, an Archer., and a particular
line of cockney humour. Paulís tenure continued with Posh
wielding the censors/editors pencil to reign in a somewhat over active
imagination. By 1998, Paul had reached new heights of surrealism,
and decided to quit on a high note.
The play for the Millennium had more characters than ever, although
not quite reaching Ben Hur proportions, it still exceeded anything
which has been performed before. The audience on that day, exactly
ten years after the first Alvechurch Mummerís play, was in excess
of three hundred. In fact it is difficult to imagine how many more
people could crowd round to see a play, which is still performed as
tradition demands, in the street.
In recent years the script has been written by Chris Davies and, as during the course of every year, someone displays sufficient idiocy to appear in the play. We have seen over the years, David Blunkett complete with dog, Russell Brand and Jonathan Woss, Simon Cowell, Richard Timney (Who?) to name just a few.