Kynren is truly epic

DAVID SIMPSON attends the opening night of the much-lauded Kynren and is astounded by its truly epic scale

The Saturday evening sunlight softly illuminates the glorious Gothic splendour of Auckland Castle as it awaits the unfolding of a great event from its lofty vantage point amidst the neatly manicured trees of the ancient bishops’ park. Close by, the ornate spire of the Franco-Flemish town hall peers above the treeline adding another beautiful backdrop to the verdant setting of an almost fairytale landscape.

Auckland Castle : Photo, John Simpson
Auckland Castle chapel : Photo, John Simpson

Only the occasional chill of a July evening  breeze sweeping across thousands of knees and the stark outline of a 1970s office block high above the valley (far enough away not to intrude) keep you grounded with a sense of reality in the present time and place. Yet even the office block seems like some extravagant addition to this extraordinary setting in which an epic two-thousand year tale of England is to be told.

Welcome to Kynren – an epic tale of England.

We wait, not quite sure what to expect, comfortable in the back row of the tribune. It’s the grand name for an auditorium of some 8,000 people but this is after all a daringly grand event.  The wooden facade looms like some grand medieval citadel as you walk the winding yellow road to reach the setting, leaving your car behind, at the bottom of the hill  – in Toronto. It’s just the beginning of a wonderfully implausible adventure.

It’s nearly 9.30pm. The moment approaches and an announcement is made: there will be a delay of ten minutes. A rumble of polite laughter rolls across the crowd. They know that this is the very first night for the volunteer performers, drawn from across the local community, children and adults alike. The expectant crowd is prepared, perhaps, to forgive the occasional glitch. They need not worry for despite the delay we soon see that the show, the spectacle, whatever we may call it, is in very safe hands.

“What’s this thing called again?” my eleven-year-old daughter asks, in slightly half-hearted fashion before it begins. She was looking forward to a friend’s birthday the following morning so this “history thing” had received little interest up until now. “KYNREN” I say, spelling it out not once but twice as she texts friends to explain where she is with a rather puzzled look on her face.

Kynren is Anglo-Saxon for ‘generation’, kindred, family’ and this epic show is designed to tell the story of generations of England’s history over two millennia, with much local flavour thrown in to taste. It’s an extraordinary challenge if ever there was one but we would not be disappointed.

And so the dream commences and a dream it surely is. The Kynren concept had all begun with the visionary dream of a City of London investor and philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer, now the owner of Auckland castle, whose plan was to recreate the spectacular French outdoor shows of Puy du Fou, right here in the North East of England.

Ruffer, born in Stokesley in North Yorkshire, just a little outside Middlesbrough, hopes to bring regeneration and a new sense of pride to Bishop Auckland and the surrounding area and in this he will surely succeed.  ‘Bishop’ as it is affectionately known, is the focal point for much of what was once the coalfield of south west Durham and was a place much affected by the rise and fall of coal mining. It is also a place with much potential and like many  towns across the region, has seen something of a rebirth.

It is a town with quite obvious medieval roots just like its medieval neighbours at Durham and Barnard Castle and it lies in beautiful surroundings too with a history stretching back to Roman times. Sadly, it is too often overlooked by visitors who mistakenly believe it to be just another mining town as they head out towards Bishop’s historic neighbours. With millions of pounds invested, this is Bishop’s chance to shine.

In both the execution and storyline, Kynren is something of a dream in itself. Perhaps it is even a dream within a dream – a spectacular stream of multicoloured consciousness, where the amazing events of twenty centuries, both local and national, flow swiftly from one into another at a captivating chronological pace. Let’s be clear, though, this is no history lesson, it’s much more magical than that.

Surprisingly, the River Wear is the setting for much of the story and in often unexpected ways. It serves as the sea in several  scenes and when it comes to technical effects has a major starring role in the show. It’s a role that it comfortably fulfils along with the grand castle that overlooks its river banks. It’s not the real river, though, but a  magical man-made lake and it’s not the real castle either. Yet dreamily, the whole of the Kynren site is set within a broad loop of the real-life River Wear itself overlooked by the real-life castle. Don’t be confused and you won’t be. As I said, this is virtually a dream within a dream.

Kynren. Photo: John Simpson
Kynren: Photo, John Simpson

When the show finally kicks off, in football fashion, the audience is instantly captivated. I’m delighted to see my daughter immediately relates. She is enthralled. It’s a story told through the dream of a young Bishop Auckland boy, a miner’s son during the inter war years of the last century. Befriended by Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, after accidentally breaking the window of the bishop’s lodge, the boy’s fascination for history is quickly kindled by the bishop’s passionate knowledge. The boy’s name is Arthur, the first hint that Kynren is to be as much a tale of legend, mystery and magic as it is a one of history.

As a historian and father to a girl who says she finds history disappointingly dull, I am rather relieved. There’s no need for me to constantly assess the accuracy of the facts – though most prove to be broadly true – and I don’t feel I have to inspire, or bore, with my insights or quiet narration as events unfold. This is a dream after all. It is theatre not a lecture. And yet the questions fall one by one: “who’s going to win this battle?” or more often “who are the bad guys? who are the good ones?” I explain, pragmatically that it’s usually the good ones that win or so history often tells us.

So how much should I reveal about this truly wonderful spectacle? Well, firstly you simply must go and see it for yourself and hope that it does not rain – though it would take much to dampen the spirit of Kynren. What I can say though is that you should expect the unexpected and also expect, with so much happening, to miss almost as much as you will see. In fact you may want to watch it all over again. There will be bangs and the flashes of fireworks too, so you’ve been warned.

Romans, Angles, Vikings, Normans, Tudors and a whole assortment of kings, queens and common people of many different eras will come and go in scene after scene as whole epochs flash past your very eyes.  Scores upon scores of colourful, costumed characters, children, armies, live goats, sheep, geese,  slaves, soldiers, peasants, knights, show-stealing horses, carriages, carts, ships and even a steam train will  appear and disappear from nowhere and into nowhere as you count down the years and move closer to the present.

Kynren: Photo John Simpson
Kynren: Photo, John Simpson

Distracted by colourful events in one corner of this splendid seven and a half acre stage, you may turn to see that you have missed the appearance of a whole building in another corner or perhaps a ship or an army. It is really quite something, like an epic Hollywood movie set, with a wonderful technicolor cast of some 1,000 souls.

You will see live battles, fabulous fireworks, water effects, magnificent creative lighting of a kind with which Durham is now so familiar and you will soon take for granted the magic of people walking on water – Dynamo style – or a whole ship emerging from the water complete with its Norman crew. “How did they do that?” you will wonder and you will surely ask yourself “am I really in Bishop Auckland?” Often you will utter to yourself “this is just plain mad”.

The amplified stories of the past are spoken by actors of all ages but this story as it is told is almost incidental to the whole visual effect and the accompanying, specially composed music. It is unashamedly and rousingly patriotic in places but never in a jingoistic way. It will leave you feeling good and is perhaps just the tonic if you wish to escape from the weary world of present day politics.

If you love the costume character magic of Beamish, or the lighting effects of Durham’s Lumiere, or the atmosphere of open air theatre and especially if you enjoyed the wonderful absurdity of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, then you are in for a very special treat here. It’s not just me that thought this though. The standing ovation that brought the show to a close is a great testament to the many months of planning and work that have gone into this magnificent event.

As we drove back home towards the midnight hour, my daughter confessed with brutal honesty that history was her most boring subject at school and apparently even the way I explain it is rather boring too. “This was amazing though”, she declared, “it made history so exciting and so real” she then continued listing her favourite parts of the show one by one by one in yet another stream of flowing dreamy consciousness. For such inspiration, Kynren,  I am eternally grateful.

 

This year there are a total of fourteen performances of Kynren – An epic tale of England on selected weekend days from July 2 to September 17. For booking and more details, contact the organisers, Eleven Arches at elevenarches.org

 

 

 

 

Beer Blessed

Beer Blogger, PAUL WHITE explores the region’s thriving range of craft beers and microbreweries

poetsdaypint

The North East is a fantastic place for food and drink.

We are blessed.

Whatever your culinary preference, there is something for you, and you no longer have to focus on Newcastle, and events like Eat! Great restaurants to suit all wallet sizes are now widespread across the region.

Likewise, we have some amazing drinks being produced in the North East, from Durham Gin to Wylam Brewery.

The craft brewing movement is as prolific here as it is anywhere. I use the term “craft”, because it is now in common usage, but many brewers will tell you that it has been around for years. Black Sheep Brewery, just a short drive south of the region, for example, will argue that what founder Paul Theakston was doing when he established the brewery in 1991 was craft – it was challenging bland beer.

People may look at the North East and think of our brown ales, from Newcastle and Sunderland (Double Maxim), but that’s just scratching the surface. Since I started my blog, Poets Day Pint, at the start of the year, I’ve blogged about a different beer most weeks and, both “professionally” and socially, I’ve sampled 67 different beers (source: my Untappd app, with which I check-in with each beer – correct at time of writing, almost certainly out of date at time of reading).

Many of these have been from the North East and I’ve found some fantastic beer. Wylam’s Jakehead IPA has become a go-to beer, I’ve found a lovely lemon and vanilla oatmeal stout from Northern Alchemy, I’ve rediscovered the joy of Camerons’ Strongarm, and stumbled into the Black Paw Brewery to sample its range, which is now matched with the outstanding food at the Michelin-starred Raby Hunt restaurant.

This is just a flavour, with microbreweries seemingly to be found in every town and village.

My urge to you, dear reader, is to give these beers a try, whether you see them on a bar, in a pub fridge, or in a supermarket. If you’re passing a local brewery, stop to see if it’s open. It may be selling its drinks, or even giving tours.

There’s a joy to be had in finding a new beer. It’s even better if you know it’s locally produced and that, simply by choosing it over a mass-produced generic “name”, you’re helping the local community and a small business.

Visit Poets Day Pint, a jargon free beer blog for the layman, not the drayman.

Over 1,700 places to eat

Why not try out our unique North East Eating and Drinking guide, a directory featuring more than 1,700 places to eat and drink across the North East of England as well as neighbouring parts of North Yorkshire, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders.Chinese food

Decide how far you want to travel then set the distance on the map. You will be given a choice of venue types – pubs, Italian restaurants, Indian food, Thai – that are available in your chosen area and you can select as many of these as you wish.

Once selected you will be taken to our directory of places to eat in the area you have chosen. Here you will find all the contact details you need along with quick access links to your chosen restaurant’s website and even the Twitter and Facebook pages where available.

We’d love to hear from you about your favourite pub and restaurant. Contact us and we’ll see if we can include your thoughts and reviews of your favourite places to eat.

Promoting our culture

North East News

We aim to promote all aspects of North East culture including events, festivals and local talent. We want to show you the best places to eat and drink and explore all the best things to do.

New sections will be added over time exploring the cultural life and prospering business community of the region and we aim to show the best that the region has to offer in all walks of life.

We are open to suggestions about what to include and we can do this independently, free of local politics, government or geographical boundaries.

Our wonderful heritage

Well you have to begin somewhere and our England’s North East website began life as the North East history pages way back in the mid 1990s. History is after all the natural starting point for all things North East.

Durham Cathedral

I mean, exploring and promoting the wonderful heritage of the region takes us right back to the beginning of the region’s story. It is a story that continues today, reflected in the region’s rich and unique culture and the legacy of its wonderful buildings and landscape.

Every person, every place, every region is shaped by history. It is our history that makes us what we are today. Our North East history pages continue to be an integral part of the site and demonstrate that the North East  is a special, vibrant and often beautiful place with a unique story to tell.

Search North East History

A new regional portal

Welcome

Welcome to England’s North East, a site dedicated to Northumberland, Durham, Tyne and Wear and the Tees Valley. Our aim is to become the foremost independent regional portal for North East England.

We want to promote North East business, culture and talent through this site as well as through our associated social media pages. This will be brought to life using our unique regional knowledge to raise the profile of everything North East.

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North East Regional Hub and Portal