The setting is County Durham, not the capital, but organisers of a dramatic live enactment of the history of Britain, Kynren, hope their show will have visitors flocking to the north east.
Every week this summer, Cheryl Blakey, 54, from Durham, will step out of her everyday life as a management consultant and step into an altogether different role – Queen Elizabeth I.
Why? Because Cheryl is one of 1,000 volunteers starring in Kynren, a new live action spectacular portraying over 2,000 years of British history.
“Along with four other actresses, I play Elizabeth I, which means being laced into an authentic ruffled dress. It’s gorgeous, but incredibly heavy!” says Cheryl.
The action takes place on a vast open-air stage with Auckland Castle as its backdrop and tells the story of British history, including the Roman conquest, Viking invasions and Industrial Revolution, and finishing with the Second World War. It’s set to an evocative soundtrack with dramatic lighting and pyrotechnics.
At the helm is Anne-Isabelle Daulon, CEO of charity Eleven Arches, and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, the instigator and financer. Together they hope that Kynren will change the fortune of County Durham, which has struggled since the last coal mines closed in the 90s.
Brought up in the North East, Jonathan has returned to the area to help with its regeneration – and Kynren is part of the grand plan. He wants to promote the heritage of the area and hopes that the show will become a success. In fact, it’s already been tipped by Rough Guides as one of the best new attractions for 2016.
All Kynren volunteers, including Cheryl, have been professionally trained by Steve Boyd, the man behind the choreography of the London 2012 opening ceremony.
“Volunteers play a variety of different roles and there are 14 key figures, from King Arthur to Queen Elizabeth I,” says Cheryl. “I’ll be playing other minor roles too. One minute I’m sat at the round table with knights fighting on horseback, the next I’m in the battlegrounds of WWII.”
And it’s been a long process getting to this stage. “Rehearsals started in November,” explains Cheryl. “Before that, the extent of my dance training was a few ballet lessons as a four-year-old, so the intense choreography has been a learning curve, but so much fun! The show is just extraordinary and it makes me so proud of our rich and varied history.”
“It’s like a live movie happening in front of your eyes”
Anne-Isabelle Daulon, 40, is CEO of Eleven arches, the charity behind Kynren. She explains how it all came together.
“We wanted Kynren to be as impressive as a live movie happening in front of your eyes, rather than a historical re-enactment. And with the help of historians, we’ve meshed national and regional history, portraying the story of Britain through the eyes of the North East.
The combination of complex special effects – we’ve got a 50ft-long Norman ship rising from the depths of the lake powered by computer-driven hydraulics – and the elaborate scenery is breathtaking, and we’ve tried to create an immersive experience.
Our biggest challenge was time. Production began just a year ago so to put together a show of this scale, with such a huge cast and crew in a short space of time, was challenging to say the least! We’ve done everything at the speed of light, so we’re pretty sleep-deprived.
But I can’t wait to see the faces of the audience when they see what we have in store for them.”
Kynren in numbers:
There has been £34 million investment in the production More than 1,000 volunteers have been recruited The production has capacity for 8,000 people per night The action takes place on a 7.5-acre stage – that’s the size of five football pitches and is big enough to have a large lake at its centre.
The 70-minute open-air evening performances are on from now until 17
September. Book at elevenarches.org. Tickets costs from £25 for adults,
and from £19 for children.