Sunday, January 27, 2013

The English Pace Egg Play

St George slays Bold Slasher - Heptonstall Pace Egg Play The Pace Egg Play is acted out every Good Friday in Weavers Square, Heptonstall. The Heptonstall Players give the following description "Originally an adult rebirth ceremony for a good new season The Pace Egg Play is perhaps the world's oldest drama and can be traced back through English and European Mummers' plays to ancient Egypt and Syria. A mixture of a pagan rebirth ceremony with the later influences of Christianity and the Crusades." This account of the plays origins is disputed by some researchers who suggest it may be more recent in date. The Heptonstall version was revived in 1979. More information about the play and its origins:
      The Pace Egg Plays are traditional village plays, with a rebirth theme, in which St George smites all challengers and the fool, Toss Pot, rejoices. The drama takes the form of a combat between the hero and villain, in which the hero is killed and brought to life, often by a quack doctor.
      The plays take place in England during Easter, indeed the word 'Pace' comes from the old English word 'pasch' literally meaning 'Easter'. They are a tradition that was once widespread throughout England, but is now only practiced in a few areas, particularly Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
Many Pace Egg plays died out after the Great War, when many of the men who took part in them were killed in action. In Middleton, North Manchester, Pace Egging (performing the Pace Egg Play) was revived in 1967. The Bury Pace Eggers were revived in 1969, and still perform in pubs and square around the town and surrounding villages over the Easter weekend.
      The plays have also enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire in recent decades. The origins are uncertain, but some version of the plays have undoubtedly been performed over many hundreds of years. It has become an established Good Friday tradition, and hundreds come to Weavers Square to watch. In the play St George takes on contenders such as Bold Slasher, the Black Prince of Paradine and Hector.
      The costumes — in particular the strange headgear comprising a towering edifice garlanded with flowers, peculiar to the Calder Valley — are as much a part of the fun as the action, where violent sword fights predominate but, as ever, good triumphs over evil.

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