It’s back: Kynren captivates with its epic tale of 2,000 years

How do you tell the tale of 2,000 years of British history, with a North-East twist, in just 90 minutes? The answer is simple, County Durham’s spectacular outdoor pageant, Kynren. JONATHAN JONES enjoys Bishop Auckland’s summer spectacle.

Kyren: Burning bagpipes
Kynren: Burning bagpipes as the English and Scots face off in battle.

Having been lucky enough to see last year’s offering, taking place on a seven-acre site in the shadow of Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, I did wonder what this year’s performance might offer that was different enough to justify paying members of the public forking out £50 for the best seats.

And I can happily say there’s enough new and extended scenes to make Kynren worth a return visit. Boosted by an increased number of participants (or archers as they are known), more than 1,400 volunteers in total, the show seemed to have more in terms of excitement, and, perhaps most importantly, it just seemed to flow better.

Kynren: Performers from the cast of 1,400
Kynren: Performers from the cast of 1,400

This view may also have been aided by the fact that this year I had a slightly more elevated position in the stands, rather than the ringside seat I took last year. This enabled me to see more of the action as it enfolded, for example, being among the first to see the burning bagpipe playing Scots army of Robert the Bruce, come face to face with the burning club juggling English army.

Something I hadn’t noticed so much last year, and perhaps this is due to the more enhanced staging of this year’s offering, is just how violent the last 2,000 years of British history have been.

The first 30-45 minutes of the show seemed to focus on one bloody skirmish after another, from the stallion riding Iceni queen, Boudicca, storming the stage accompanied by her daughters, battling with their Roman oppressors on the banks of a lake, from which scenes rise and fall, through the monk slaughtering attacks of the Vikings, to the death of Harold Hadrada, clutching an arrow in his eye, at the hands of the invading William the Conqueror.

Great fun for those watching, particularly the younger members of the audience, who particularly enjoyed the sight of a Roman Centurion being thrown from his horse, then dragged along behind it.

Kynren features plenty of action scenes
Kynren features plenty of fast moving action scenes

There was a slightly more sedate section, featuring Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess, which included the Queen entering the stage on a fabulous royal barge, while Shakespeare himself could be seen on the balcony of his home. But this was soon to be replaced by the skirmishes of the English Civil War featuring Cavalier cavalry facing off against Roundhead armour.

The show owes a lot of its continued success to the generosity of investment banker Jonathan Ruffer, the man spearheading the £100 million redevelopment of Bishop Auckland, which included buying Auckland Castle and saving paintings by the 17th century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán.

After an initial £35million investment in the Kynren site, funded entirely from charitable donations, each subsequent year is funded from the previous year’s proceeds, with profits from tickets and merchandise sales reinvested in the show and keeping it at its best, continually increasing the skill level for volunteers to make this show the success.

Kyrnen: A wonderful spectacle
Kynren: A wonderful spectacle

Designed to emulate the success of France’s Puy du Fou, which helped to revitalise the Vendee area of Western France, Mr Ruffer is hopeful that Kynren will help to do the same for Bishop Auckland.

He joked, as he launched this year’s event, that he hoped Kynren would last for the next 50 years, and to ask him again then, at the age of 117, what he thought was the secret of its success.

He added: “We are not like Trooping the Colour where you see some wonderful things but the only thing that changes year after year is the name of the person who falls off the horse.

“We are not like a Premiership football match where every moment of every game is different but ultimately it’s just 24 blokes running around a lawn.

“We are more like Star Wars, or Harry Potter, which you can come back to year after year and see, in one sense, the same thing and same characters, but in another sense something different and unique because every performance is unique.”

Kynren is on target to attract more than 500,000 visitors to the North East by 2020, boosting the economy by almost £5million a year.

If the reaction of the gathered press and guests (mostly friends and family of the participants) is anything to go by, with a standing ovation at the end of the show, and numerous bouts of spontaneous applause throughout, County Durham has a hit on its hands.

If, as promised, production company Eleven Arches continues to upgrade the show each year, then I’ll be happy to make an annual visit.

Kyrnen, Auckland Castle
Kynren: A grand stage set to the wonderful backdrop of Auckland Castle

However, I must add that my enjoyment of this year’s offering was perhaps improved by my choice of a slightly more elevated seat, rather than my choice of a front row one last year.

This more elevated position gave me chance to see more of the early action as it happened, in particular items that were happening to the far left or right of the stage area.

Under the watchful eye of US-born artistic director Steve Boyd, who choreographed Olympic opening ceremonies in London and Rio, revised and extra scenes have been added to this year’s offering. These include a completely new English Civil War section, and the marking of two special moments in history, commemorating 100 years since the end of the First World War, a moment laced with poppies and poignancy, and the successful struggle of the Suffragette movement, which led to women being given the vote.

Kynren: Poppies in a poignant moment
Kynren: Poppies in a poignant moment

There’s still something for those who like history, told from a North-East angle, with this year’s audiences again getting to meet the Venerable Bede and Prince Bishop Bek.

There’s also still a particularly moving sequence featuring the coal mining communities of the North East. Pit props rise from the lake, and miners march to work, only for a number of massive explosions to rock the stage, followed by the collapse of pit props. This is followed by mourning women following a number of hearses across the stage, showing just how dangerous working in the pits of County Durham, once the lifeblood of the region, was.

On a lighter note, however, there’s also a myriad of performing animals including 33 horses, a flock of 27 sheep (a crowd favourite), a gaggle of geese, numerous donkeys and a pair of Durham shorthorn oxen.

Kynren: The sheep are a crowd favourite
Kynren: The sheep are a crowd favourite

The show also features more stunts, including a Roman Centurion being dragged along behind his horse, in the early moments of the show, plus a motorcycle rider crossing the stage ablaze.

Stephenson’s Locomotion, the first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public rail line, also makes an appearance, steaming across the stage followed by cheering crowds, and in later scenes, Winston Churchill makes his “fight them on the beaches’ speech, while a spitfire chases a German bomber overhead.

Produced by Eleven Arches, the 2018 season features 17 performances across, commencing on June 30, and running on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout July, August and September.

Tickets for Kynren range from £25-£55 for adults and £19-£41 for children. For more information, visit www.kynren.co.uk.

Joanne’s colourful, quirky seaside scenes will make you smile

In our latest interview featuring creative people in the region we talk to 40-year-old Ouseburn-based artist Joanne Wishart.

Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart
Newcastle-based artist. Joanne Wishart

Where in the North East are you based?

My studio is based at the Mushroom Works in Ouseburn, Newcastle, but I live a little nearer the coast in North Shields.

How would you describe your work?

My work is colourful and quirky capturing nostalgic seaside memories of days out at the coast, in particular the North East coast. I have an extensive back catalogue of works depicting Northumberland’s favourite coastal landmarks. I like to paint summer days and sunny skies to create images that will give you a lift and make you smile.

Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart
Seaside Donkeys by Joanne Wishart

I work mainly with acrylic paint but I like to add a bit of collage material including fabrics and old maps into my work to give added layers and a textured surface.  My ideas have developed over the years and have introduced new work including driftwood boat sculptures, and deckchair artworks.

Tell us how you first started out as an artist?

I’ve always been creative ever since I was a child. Then after school I went on to study Printed Textile design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. As part of my degree I spent a term in Nova Scotia studying at their art college, which was a fabulous experience.

I would say the progression form graduation to where I am today was a slow process, I initially got work freelancing for agents in the U.K. and New York designing Hawaiian shirt prints and children’s furnishing fabrics. I also worked part time in a small gallery and picture framers. In 2006 I met my now husband and moved from Berwick upon Tweed to North Tyneside and together we set up our current business where we self publish my paintings into limited edition prints and greetings cards and we haven’t looked back.

Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart
Towards Dunstanburgh by Joanne Wishart

What work are you most proud of?

I do love the old 1940’s deckchair frames with my paintings on the canvas. They are something just a little bit different and really capture the essence of seaside nostalgia.

I am also proud to have won North East England’s “Best Creative Business” in 2009.  I am proud to be able to make my way in the world doing what I love for a living.

What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?

Growing up near Berwick upon Tweed and now living in North Tyneside, North East England has so much to offer in terms of inspiration.

 What inspires you?

I love the great outdoors, the beauty of the North East coastline, the coastal landscape, the sun, the sea, the flowers and animals. Most of my inspiration comes from walking the coastal paths or spending a sunny day on the beach with my kids. I like to get out and about with my sketchbook and camera, taking it all back to my studio with a head full of ideas.

Puffins by Joanne Wishart
Puffins by Joanne Wishart

What has been your most challenging creation?

My most challenging creation has to be my exhibition in the Bridge Gallery at Tynemouth station. It is such an unusual space to hang work in and that can be view from both sides of the walkway. I am used to hanging a painting on a flat wall so I had to think differently to make this exhibition work as a whole.

 Do you have any tips for up and coming artists?

My tips would be to work hard, create your own style, evolve and develop. Go into galleries and ask for feedback (make an appointment first, you will get a better response!), learn from this and don’t let the knock backs get you down.  An artist’s life is a rollercoaster and you never know what is around the next corner.

Joanne Wishart, artist
Joanne Wishart, artist

Which other artists or photographers inspire you.

I try not to get too inspired by other artists work so that my own signature style develops. 

What are your ambitions for the future?

I would love to run my own studio gallery one day, this might be when my kids get a bit older, but for the moment I am happy juggling being a mum and artist.

If you would like to visit my studio at the Mushroom Works and see where the magic happens please pop along to Ouseburn Open Studios on the 30th June & 1st July.  The Mushroom Works will be open to the public and welcomes visitors behind the scenes. I will have a selection of new North East paintings on show in the Mushroom Works gallery and will be on hand to talk to anyone in my studio.

Discover more ofJoanne’s art at : www.joannewishart.co.uk

Northumberland’s landscape and light make the perfect picture for David

In our latest interview featuring creative people in North East England we talk to Hexham-based landscape photographer and writer David Taylor. 

Charlies Garden. Photo David Taylor
Charlies Garden, Colywell Bay near Seaton Sluice, Northumberland. Photo by David Taylor

Where in the North East are you based?

I live in Hexham, just twenty minutes’ drive from Hadrian’s Wall Country.

How would you describe your work?

I’m a landscape and architectural photographer who lives and works in the north east of England. I’m particularly inspired by the Northumberland countryside, from the craggy landscape of Hadrian’s Wall to the wild moorlands of the Cheviot hills.

David Taylor North East photographer
David Taylor North East photographer

How did you get into photography?

I borrowed my school’s camera (and there was only one…) when I was studying A-Level art,  and was immediately hooked. There’s something compelling about making an image in a small fraction of a second without the need for pen or pencil! I’ve always liked being outdoors so landscape photography seemed the most natural fit.

What are you most proud of as a photographer?

I’ve written forty books and contributed to many others. These books have either been about photography techniques and equipment, or about Northumberland. I didn’t start out with the intention of combining writing with photography but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve achieved that.

Peel Crags, Hadrian's Wall. Photo David Taylor
Summer mist over Peel Crags, Hadrian’s Wall. Photo David Taylor

What do you most enjoy photographing and why?

Water in is a fascinating subject. How it appears in the final photo depends on a number of factors, such as how it’s illuminated to the length of exposure used. I could quite cheerfully spend all day just photographing watery subjects such as the sea.

What inspires you? 

The quality of light on a landscape. Light changes throughout the day, varying depending on where the sun is in the sky and the current weather condition. It means you can revisit the same location over and over again and still see and shoot something different each time. I find this both challenging – you can’t know precisely what will work and what won’t until you get to a location and see how it’s illuminated – and creatively inspiring.

Bamburgh Castle. Photo David Taylor
Bamburgh Castle. Photo David Taylor

What influence, if any does North East England have upon your work? 

I’m from Newcastle originally and grew up there. I spent a lot of time on the coast when I was young, as well as camping in places like Gosforth Park. That early exposure to the landscape of the North East is something that has been very influential. As much as I like travelling and visiting other parts of the world, I can’t see me wanting to stop photographing in and around the North East.

College Valley. Photo David Taylor
Looking down the College Valley, Northumberland. Photo David Taylor

What has been your most challenging photographic creation? 

I’m always a bit suspicious of photos that happen easily! They somehow don’t feel earned. It’s those images that require work or perseverance to achieve that tend to be my favourites. One shot – the view down Henhole in the College Valley in the Northumberland National Park – took six hours of trudging in rain across wet moorland to achieve. It was at the point that I was more than ready to go home that the sun finally broke out. The resulting photo took just a few minutes to set up and shoot, but this more than made up for the fact that I was soaking wet and still have a long walk ahead of me.

Do you have any tips for up and coming photographers? 

Photography has a reasonably steep learning curve but it’s not impossible to understand the basics of how an image is made. Once you’ve achieved this it’s just a question of practise to refine how and what you shoot. Be prepared to take creative risks and make mistakes; it’s often the mistakes you make that give you the greatest insight in how you can improve your photography. Don’t give up and have fun!

Footprints on Bamburgh beach. Photo David Taylor
Footprints on Bamburgh beach. Photo David Taylor

What other photographers or artists inspire you? 

Although he’s not a landscape photographer, Elliott Erwitt is one of my favourite photographers. His documentary photography is full of humanity and often wickedly funny. For me, there’s nothing better than curling up on a wet, grey day with one of his photography anthologies. I’ve tried to shoot like Erwitt and wasn’t that successful. It was a good indicator that I should stick to landscape…

What are your ambitions for the future? 

To keep on learning about photography. It’s such a big subject that’s impossible to know everything. It’s a worthwhile ambition to try though!

See more of David Taylor’s photography at: www.davidtaylorphotography.co.uk

 

Northumberland Snow. Photo David Taylor

The Beast from the East hits the Northumberland National Park. Photo David Taylor

 

 

 

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