Thinking of visiting Bishop Auckland for the 2019 edition of Kynren? The outdoor show tells a tale of England’s history from Roman times and returns for a fourth season in 2019. Ahead of the opening show of the year, I took a seat in the tribune that holds up to 8,000 people on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland in County Durham.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to attend the press preview of Kynren, which has not reviewed or approved this article.
Prior commitments over the previous three summers meant that I hadn’t been free to attend Kynren. Having read only positive reviews, praising the scale and impact of the spectacle, I hadn’t stayed away by choice. Family members who’d attended and been impressed and talked passionately about the show, encouraging me to attend. The big question in my mind was would it really be as good as everyone suggested?
In a word, yes. It’s a spectacle that impresses because of its scale and grandeur. It’s also a fine example of what communities can achieve when people pull together.
Kynren at Bishop Auckland
Kynren is performed only on Saturday evenings. The cast, crew and stewards are all volunteers from Bishop Auckland and nearby. Well over 1,000 people give up their time to ensure Kynren can be staged. Cumulatively, the participants have dedicated more 650,000 hours to rehearsals and performances since Kynren was conceived. Apart from on 3 August, when no performance is scheduled, they will be busy each Saturday evening until 14 September.
My first contact with any of the personnel associated with Kynren was in the carpark, where attendants wearing hi-vis jackets greeted me with smiles and exchanged pleasantries. They explained that the tribune was roughly a 15-minute walk away, along a winding marked trail, or I could wait a couple of minutes and hop on the next available bus. The buses drop attendees close to the entrance gate.
By the main gate volunteers asked if they could search my bag before scanning my ticket and showing me in the direction of the tribune. All the time the stewards were welcoming and chatty. It’d be great to see such a positive attitude exhibited by stewards at all major entertainment and sporting events. Much could be learnt from Kynren’s example of how to create an upbeat atmosphere and keep people moving while doing what appeared a thorough job of security.
Kynren’s new Viking village
Before heading towards my seat in the tribune I strolled through the Viking-style village which has been added for the 2019 edition of Kynren. The Vikings first raided Northumbria in 793 and their coming is the focal theme of this year’s show.
Ringed by a palisade and overlooked by two watch towers, the Viking village features a smattering of buildings and shelters. Women fished in the village pond and tended to livestock while blacksmiths hammered at metal, causing sparks to fly. Axe-wielding warriors formed a shield wall, scowling and hollering, as if they were about to stride out and ravage northern England again.
The Vikings had an opportunity to unleash their war cries later in the evening. A longship with a sweeping prow plus red and white sails rose from the artificial lake forming the centrepiece of the vast arena in which the action of Kynren unfolds. Pyrotechnics symbolised the burning of villages as the Vikings advanced southward through England.
Described as ‘an epic tale of England’, Kynren begins with a boy called Arthur kicking a football about with friends. Accidentally putting the ball through the window of the house to the right of the set leads to him meeting with the character Old Arthur. Young Arthur discovers a secret that enables him to travel through time and observe key scenes from English history.
Scenes from England’s history
The Roman and Norman invasions, cultural flourishing of the Elizabethan Age and the turmoil of the Civil War count among the nationally significant episodes depicted during the 90-minute show. The appointment of Bishop Bek of Durham and North East England’s role in powering the Industrial Revolution count among those with a more local focus.
Narrated in part, Kynren also features projected light animations. Humans are not the only members of the vast cast. Geese are herded during a rustic Georgian scene and horses features several times. For me, one of the highlights of the show was seeing a galloping rider exhibit accuracy with a lance while dressed as a medieval knight.
If you’re going to attend, look out for visual gags amid the spectacle. Greggs, the popular baker, was established in the North East. During a scene of rustic celebration set in Georgian England a cart advertises ‘Gregory’s’ pies.
The entire cast re-enters the arena for the rousing grand finale. A union jack is unfurled amid a spectacular lightshow. Fireworks burst into the night sky, illuminating Bishop Auckland Castle and ensuring Kynren concludes making a big visual impact.
The 2019 Kynren season runs until 14 September. Adult tickets are priced between £25 and £59.
See the Kynren website for more information about the show, including timings (the show starts at 9.30pm at the start of the season and 7.30pm in September), ticket prices and availability.
Photographs illustrating this post are by North East England-based Why Eye Photography. Call 07947 587136 to discuss your photography needs and commission a shoot by Why Eye Photography, which specialises in food, travel and portraiture photos.
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Handy tips for Kynren
The trails leading towards the arena get muddy when it’s wet, so wear appropriate footwear.
The outdoor show begins as dusk begins to fall and ends in darkness. Dress warmly and take waterproofs if rain is forecast.