CHARGE! Vikings and knights form an integral part of the 90-minute spectacle
CHARGE! Vikings and knights form an integral part of the 90-minute spectacle

IN the midst of a dusky summer twilight, the wooden dwellings of a Saxon village suddenly burst into fierce flames.

The smoky foreground is filled with a hoard of marauding Vikings, the cause of the carnage, their armour gleaming in the last of the day’s dying light.

The striking image could easily belong to a scene from Netflix blockbuster The Last Kingdom, the History Channel’s The Vikings or even HBO’s Game of Thrones.

But this visual feast is actually just one of many in Kynren – a colossal, spellbinding outdoor theatre production performed upon the rolling hills of a seven and a half acre stage on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland.

The show takes the most magical, bloody and tragic events from 2,000 years of England’s history, along with legend and myth, and crams them into a 90-minute spectacle.

And as a result, Kynren has had fans of Game of Thrones, and other fantasy and historical dramas flocking to Bishop Auckland in droves.

The epic was first produced in 2016. The theme for 2019 the “Year of the Viking” and the show features a living, breathing Viking village complete with animals and a blacksmith forge as well as a longship burial on water.

Anne-Isabelle Daulon, boss of Eleven Arches, the charity which produces Kynren, said: "There is something amazing and incredibly absorbing about live action.

“Kynren is like a live movie in front of your very eyes. You get transported extremely quickly from epic scene to epic scene. There will be a battle scene one moment, and the next a scene in a castle.

“It’s all about incredibly high quality production. I love Game of Thrones. You just need that leap of faith to feel like you have travelled back into the past and are a part of it. The big TV dramas and films these days all take inspiration from the past. When I was young films such as Back to the Future were really popular.

“Movies and dramas focused on looking forward to a fantasy future. Now, it is all about travelling back to the past. Kynren is not a history lesson. You’re not going to come and watch Kynren and then get a GCSE in History.

“We are asking, was it really like this? In that respect, we are not that different from the movie Gladiator. This is reminding people that history does not have to be boring.”

The gargantuan performance, which involves 1,000 cast and crew and 150 live animals takes in Boudicca, King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, both world wars and much more besides and is anything but.

The animals, which are nearly all grey in colour to stand out against the backdrop of the dusky evening, range from chickens to horses and are an integral part of the production.

International eventer Anna Warnecke, 39, has the round the clock job of looking after all the creatures as well as executing daring equestrian stunts.

Her feats include being set on fire while riding a horse during one of Kynren's epic fighting scenes.

Anna, whose husband Graham, 43, and their daughter Lucy, six, are also taking part in the show, says casually: “I get set on fire. It is a really, really cool stunt. It's very specialised. Luckily, we have brilliant people on the ground who know exactly what they are doing.

“Once you are in Kynren it really gets under your skin. It takes over your life, but in a good way. I am on duty 24 hours a day. If anything goes wrong, I get called.

“But I absolutely love it, I love the friendships you form with the animals and the responsibility of looking after them. We have a number of different breeds.

“We have some Portuguese Lusitano horses, which are bred for war and for bull fighting.

“These are perfectly placed to perform in Kynren's battle scenes. We also have some Kladruber horses, of which there are only 400 left in the whole world. They’re really special.”

Anna adds: “Kynren is actually better than a movie. It’s a real life movie and that’s the difference.

“It’s not easy to compare the show with TV fantasy dramas, but I totally agree that many people who love Kynren also love Game of Thrones.

“There is definitely a connection. But for me, Kynren is better because you are living the drama rather than seeing it on a screen.

“Also, you are not stuck in any one period of history. Our story is told throughout the whole of the past 2,000 years."

Kynren has not just become an important part of life for Anna, but for many among the huge number of cast members.

They talk about being bowled over by the sheer scale of the production.

Stone mason Grant Young, 38, has been taking part in Kynren ever since it began after he went down to the site looking for work.

He said: “I didn’t know anything about it at first.

“As I approached someone shouted out: ‘We have another Viking!’ I have quiet a big build, a beard and tattoos, so once I was told what Kynren is about, it did make sense, but I was confused at first! I was shown around and it totally sparked my interest.

“I am now a cast member and also build some of the stage sets. I have learnt how to dive for a scene where the Viking boat emerges from water. A lot of us are trained in stage combat.

“It’s become a huge part of my life. I have a group of friends from all over the country, who I go out with.”

Once the tale, which is told through the eyes of Arthur, a 10-year-old boy from a mining family, draws to an end Ms Daulon wanders among the crowds as they head home.

She said: “I love to listen to what the customers have to say. They will ask each other, did you see the milkmaid, did you see that animal, did you see the blacksmith? Everyone takes away something different from the show. When you have a good story, then that is universal. You laugh, you smile, you cry.”