Pace Egg and Mummers Plays in Calderdale
Pace Egg Plays are an Easter tradition in Calderdale, with several performances taking place on Good Friday at Weavers Square in Heptonstall (but sadly not in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic).
The name ‘pace’ comes from the Latin word ‘pascha’, meaning Easter. The plays are part of the wider tradition of Mummer’s plays or medieval mystery plays, traditions that were once far more widespread throughout England but which are now practised in only a few areas.
They are perhaps the world's oldest drama; a mixture of ancient pagan rebirth ceremony celebrating a prosperous spring season of birth and renewal, with the later influences of Christianity and the Crusades; traditionally performed by an all-male troupe of amateur actors, with text passed down orally over the centuries.
SPOILER ALERT: don’t read on if you’ve never been to see a Pace Egg Play and don’t want the general events spoiled for you.
The drama of the Heptonstall Pace Egg Play involves a series of colourful characters, both heroes and villains, such as Saint George, Hector, Bold Slasher, the King of Egypt, the Black Prince, a quack Doctor and a Fool named Toss Pot; who take their turns on ‘centre stage’ and many of whom engage in mock combat.
At some point in the raucous proceedings, the hero is killed, but never fear - he is and brought back to life by the Doctor with the aid of a bottle of powerful restorative called Nip Nap.
Each performance of the play in Heptonstall is usually bookended by traditional music and Morris dance.
The Heptonstall Pace Egg was revived in 1979 and has since become an established Good Friday tradition, with hundreds of people coming to Weavers Square every year to watch.
Heptonstall is not the only place in Calderdale where you can enjoy such traditional plays. The Long Company Mummers are a long-established team of players who delight audiences with their traditional play on only four nights in early January every year, ending on Twelfth Night.
Exact locations may vary from year to year, but regularly include Todmorden, Sowerby Bridge, Elland and Ripponden.
Long Company Mummers include the characters of King Christmas, St George, The Prince of Paradine, Common Jack, The Doctor and Beelzebub, supported by a band of musicians.
The players arrive from the dark, concealed head to toe in fantastic, colourful costumes; deliver their seasonal play by lantern light, and disappear back into the night.
Each performance is followed by a music session in a local pub, featuring songs, tunes and seasonal novelties performed by the assembled company.
Both the Heptonstall Pace Egg Plays and the Long Company Mummers raise money for charity in the form of donations from the audience.