The advert, not actual Kynren footage
Footage and interviews from the press preview night, which is when the rest of my family saw it. That first interview is a proper Bishop accent!
I'm just back from three weeks in Bishop Auckland, my home town, but before I left I saw Kynren at the weekend, as an early birthday present from my sister. It's based on the Puy de Fou shows in France, which have developed into a theme park, and is being funded by my home town's local city fund manager turned philanphropist, who bought Auckland Castle (until then the seat of the Bishop of Durham) a few years ago. Reportedly there's been £35m invested to get it up and running, and that's well believable, because it knocks any son et lumier
e I've seen before into a cocked hat. They've head-hunted the directorial staff from both Puy de Fou and the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, but the cast themselves are local volunteers, including my sister, who is variously playing Roman slaves, medieval peasants, miner's widows and Canadian Mounties, all in the same performance.
The showground lies in a loop of the Wear below Auckland Castle, in the shadows of the viaduct (from which the production company, Eleven Arches, takes its name) and is centred on an artificial lake, with significant parts of the show actually taking place on the lake. In front of that is the field where most of the action takes place, and rising from the back of the lake is a stone terrace, which becomes the backdrop when 'Auckland Castle' rises from it. From the back the seating looks like a wooden fortress, but from the front it's 8,000 steeply ranked seats which give a good view over the staging. As a wheelchair user I was in row A, actually in front of row A, which was great for seeing everything on the field, but one or two things on the lake were slightly obscured by the low angle. To be honest I'd still take the proximity and the slightly blocked vision if given the choice of a higher seat.
The show started at 8:30PM, which was full dark at the start of September, and that's apparently better for the spectacle. My brother in law was with me as my wheelchair user +1 and he said it was definitely better in full darkness than the dusk he'd first seen it in.
Anyway, Kynren. There's a linking narrative involving a young boy named Arthur, who boots his football through the pre-war Bishop's window and is rewarded with a lesson in British history, which in 90 minutes covered:
Joseph of Arimethea and the Holy Grail - complete with tree emerging from the lake
Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The Roman Withdrawal from England - with four horse chariot, Roman cavalry, legionaries, slave wagon.
St Cuthbert and the coming of Christianity to the North. The Lindisfarne Gospel.
The Viking raids, the wandering of St Cuthbert’s remains and the founding of Durham Cathedral - they built a cathedral from fountains, I was awestruck, so was everyone else.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge - Arthur gets the crucial role in the story the Viking on the Bridge
The Battle of Hastings, Harold and William - which features a crewed Norman ship emerging from the lake
Medieval Life and Tourney - complete with sheep, goats and geese, and with knights tilting at targets no more than 15 feet in front of you if you're in the wheelchair row
Battles against the Scots - flaming drumsticks!
Henry VIII and the Field of the Cloth of Gold
Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare meet at Auckland Castle - this is apparently historically attested, blew my mind!
The Civil War and the execution of Charles I
The coming of the railways - from Bishop Auckland to the world! (The Stockton and Darlington railway was built to service the Bishop Auckland coalfields). Complete with working Locomotion.
Mining disasters - very poignant, especially as many of the cast and audience will be descendants of miners, our family certainly is.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
WWI and the Christmas Truce - I may have had a tear in my eye here
The Durham Miner's Gala - first time I've seen the Charleston done in wellies
WWII, Arthur goes to war.
And all wrapped up with a curtain call and Land of Hope and Glory, during which my sister cunningly positioned herself in exactly the right spot for us to spot her.
It is non-stop, often with four or more layers of activities happening at once - track, field, lake, terrace. My brother-in-law kept prompting me which way to look.
It absolutely peed down all day, including during the performance, but it was so good it really didn't matter. Though I did have to practically hose down my chair the next day to get rid of the yellow dust that it had picked up from the chippings used on the paths. Car parking would have been good, properly laid out disabled spaces in a dedicated car park, but the car park volunteers were telling people to ignore the markings and park closer to the next car (someone said something about part of another car park being flooded). Advantage of knowing someone in the cast was the feedback that this is a problem for disabled people, especially wheelchair users, and the gaps between cars are there for a reason, was on the official system by Sunday lunchtime.
There've been some stories about the car parks being jammed until midnight, but we managed to get back to the car, out of the site and be in the pub by 10:20, complete with my sister, who'd had to do a quick change and find us.
There's a handful of almost sold-out performances left this year, Fridays and Saturdays 'til September 17th, but they're already planning for next summer. It's pricey, but if you get the chance, go, you won't regret it.