23 June 2016

A World-Class Spectacular Comes to the North East, Don't Miss Kynren!

When I found out that there would be a 1,000 person historical enactment of British and North East history happening close to where I live, I thought about what I learnt at school about our history. Not a lot at all about the region's historical background, a little more about British history (but only when I was older). I think it's shocking how little kids learn about our own history; hopefully things have improved in schools now. So when I was invited to Kynren's press night, I was hoping that I would be enlightened about the history of my own area, my own country (as well as entertained).

You may have seen the billboards around for a while now, or noticed tweets popping up in your Twitter feed. I really hope you've heard about it, especially if you're based in the North East. Opening on July 2nd, you can join an audience of 8,000 others in front of a stage the size of five football pitches overlooked spectacularly by Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, to witness 2,000 years of British history, seen through the eyes of the North East. You might be wondering how on earth this all came about...

Luckily for the region, Jonathan Ruffer, a philanthropist, barrister and investment manager originally from the area decided that he wanted to give something back, and has set up two charities to attract tourists from the UK and internationally to the area. Eleven Arches produces Kynren, and Auckland Castle Trust which aims to restore the Castle, the art collection, Deer Park and garden to their former glory. He spoke to the assembled press and other guests and his passion for the project was evident. The night show spectacular, a son et lumiere (sound and light) show is based on Puy du Fou, a highly successful and long running  show (it opened in 1978) which evolved into a medieval park attracting 2 million visitors a year in the Vendee region of Western France. Many of the staff from the park are now working on making a Kynren success. We were introduced to the French team before the start of the show, and given a better idea of the sheer amount of effort that has gone into the production. It's heartwarming to know that the plan is to deliver an updated version of Kynren year after year - all of the show's profits will be reinvested back into the show and the training academy attached to it, benefiting the area for generations to come (fittingly Kynren means generation).

Another invasion...
Like Puy du Fou, the cast and crew are all volunteers who've been on a bit of a wild ride. Many have received training from some of the most accomplished specialists in the world in stage combat, horse riding, dance and pyrotechnics. Steve Boyd organised the mass choreography at the London 2012 Olympics, Gina & Rocky have choreographed Olympic and World Cup ceremonies around the world.  When you enter the grounds, you get a sense of what it was like to attend the London Olympics. Enthusiastic and friendly volunteers line the track leading to The Tribune (the seating area), and it's difficult not to speak to everyone individually. You get a real sense of how proud people from the area are to be involved in any way, shape or form. 

The stage overlooked by Auckland Castle 
A group of about fifty of us were treated to a drinks reception and a variety of delicious dishes. before hearing from Mr Ruffer and Anne-Isabelle Daulon, the creator and CEO of Eleven Arches who is also involved with directing many other projects within the Auckland Castle Trust. It's obvious that the best people in the business are involved in this ambitious project, and no stone has been left unturned. It was a chilly evening and we were all well and truly ready to be wowed by the time we were taken to the stage area (the shows starts at 9pm to ensure it's getting dark, which ensures the most spectacular special effects).  

The jaw-dropping Viking Longship
You are seriously in for a treat - a feast to the eyes and the senses. It's a 90 minute gallop (trust me, it flies by) through 2,000 years of English history, beginning in Roman times, through to bloody Viking invasions, battles with the Scots, the Tudor period, the Industrial Revolution celebrating the invention of the steam engine (and the world's first commercial railway between Stockton and Darlington) before passing through the Roaring 20s and advent of rock and roll. It's suitable for all the family, and told from the viewpoint of Arthur, a ten year old boy and the son of a local mining family from the North East. The football- obsessed boy breaks a window of a hunting lodge on the grounds of Auckland Castle, encountering the Bishop, who doesn't stay angry for long and proceeds to take him on a journey through two millennia of British history, in an effort to show him the greatness of the land. 

Shakespeare is celebrated in a stunning visual sequence
It was fantastic to be reminded of the amazingly rich tapestry of our history - I'm a full on Francophile that often feels more French than English and even I was moved what unfolded. Myths and legends are brought to life before our eyes, the huge 7.5 acre stage is awe-inspiring, especially the 3,500 m2 lake in the centre, which is equipped with underwater hydraulics to create some astonishing special effects. I really enjoyed the equestrian skills and the majesty of the horses involved, as well as the appearance of other animals which really made me smile. One of the volunteers told me that the volunteer age range spanned from 2 to 85, and it was nice to see school children involved and obviously enjoying their moment in the limelight. The stunning setting, expressive and passionate cast and jaw-dropping special effects accompanied by the haunting sound track composed by Nathan Stornetta combine to pull you into the epic tale immediately, and you don't come back to the present until the dazzling finale. The first hour absolutely flew by so really try to drink it all in and don't watch it via a screen (time flies when you're having fun). Remember to wrap up warm (the temperature dropped quite low even in June) and grab a hot drink before you go in. I couldn't believe how much they'd managed to cram in in an hour and a half, and was blown away by what the team have achieved. 

Tudor times
There's so much going on in the North East at the moment, but this is surely the must-see event of 2016, based on sheer scale and ambition of the show and the involvement of the local community, which is sure to rejuvenate a town which deserves a brighter future. Visitors are coming from as far afield as the USA, Canada and the Far East, a testament to the huge efforts of everyone involved and far-reaching appeal of the project. I'm looking forward to seeing it again already, and seeing things that I might have missed the first time. I left feeling proud to be from the region, proud to be English and with a thirst to learn more about our incredible history which is nigh-on impossible to condense into such a short period, but Eleven Arches have done it justice. Bravo to everyone involved! 

Press photos
The spectacular finale
To find out more and to buy tickets, click here

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