The Wife of Yarlington, Langport Mummers

THOMAS Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge famously begins with Michael Trenchard, an angry drunken young farm-worker, selling his wife and baby daughter at an auction.

It would be easy to think this is a brilliant and shocking plot device by a great writer, but the story is based on a real life event, the actual sale of a wife at Yarlington Fair in 1789.

That incident is the inspiration for a new comic play from the Langport Mummers, who premiered The Wife of Yarlington at Langport Festival, travelling by boat along the River Parrett to the open air waterside performance area.

The sale of Ann Atwell by her husband William to Thomas Wadman was reported in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of Friday 4th September 1789. It has been turned into a typically rambunctious comedy by artist Kate Lynch, a founder member of the Mummers, whose husband, the distinguished painter James Lynch, played the drunken Atwell.

The Langport Mummers have been taking traditional mummers plays to local pubs, open air spaces and wassails since 2002. They draw on the age-old repertoire of St George and the Dragon, which dates back to medieval times, as well as Viking tales and Arthurian legends with deep roots in Somerset.

It’s great to see this ancient performance style still alive and well in the 21st century and to welcome a new addition to the familiar old stories. If you enjoy these colourful, energetic and hilarious plays, with their mixture of slapstick, cross-dressing and live music, watch out for future performances of The Wife of Yarlington.



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