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The Coppergate Woman at York Theatre Royal

York, UK. 30.08.22. York Theatre Royal presents community production, “The Coppergate Woman”, written by Maureen Lennon, featuring a local ensemble cast and live choir performances. The production is directed by creative director, Juliet Forster, and associate artist, John R Wilkinson, assistant director is Misha Duncan-Barry, with movement direction by Xolani Crabtree, set design by Sara Perks, costume design by Hazel Jupp, AV design by David Callanan, and lighting design by Craig Kilmartin. Kate Hampson is in the titular role of The Coppergate Woman. Photograph © Jane Hobson.

The Coppergate Woman, a female skeleton residing in the Jorvik Centre, was uncovered by archaeologists during a dig that began by the River Foss. This was an unusual burial for she was found in a shallow grave with no shroud or grave goods. Her plaque at the museum describes her age (around 46), her height (5ft 2inches) and considers her “robustly built”. It also describes the degenerative joint disease and arthritis which impacted her life, leaving her likely in need of a crutch. But who was she?

What would she think if she awoke in the modern day? What would she see, smell, hear and think? This performance tackles these questions with feeling and humour, spinning a fictional life for this once living Viking woman. Summoned back to the land of the living, the Coppergate Woman – played by Kate Hampson – guides the audience on a journey with many trials, connecting the contemporary troubles of the ordinary person with the grandiose tales of Norse mythology. The impact of the pandemic, our evolving sense of community in an increasingly digital age, and the supposed “end of the world” facing climate change and political instability are all cleverly explored within this story. In doing so, the audience is invited to consider the most important lesson of all from Norse mythology – it may seem like the end of the world, but when we stand together and fight, there is hope.

The Coppergate Woman becomes a Valkyrie and is given a mission to help the people of York. Photograph © Jane Hobson.

Four key characters, and their associated Norns – Norse goddesses of fate – help the Coppergate Woman realise her mission: Fern, a resentful and angry middle-aged woman stuck at home and afraid of the outside world after lockdown and her ‘underlying health condition’ pulled apart her once social and vibrant life; Tom, a gym-lad with a brother in the hospital, struggling to face the greif he feels; Sarah, a single-mother and workaholic NHS nurse, never stopping and facing the reality of her own life; and Liv, Sarah’s daughter with a bright imagination and artistic talent. Each character faces their personal challenges with the help of the Coppergate woman, and in return they help her realise the message she is meant to bestow upon the people of York before returning to rest. 

Live musicians complement this incredible performance, alongside the York Theatre Royal choir, with Viking-style songs to create atmosphere and pull at the heartstrings. Everybody both on-stage and back-stage were amazing in this respect. The costuming was both incredibly detailed and based closely on what we understand to be Viking fashion, each character from Norse Mythology distinct and recognisable. Fenrir in particular, a giant wolf and son of the god Loki, was played by a group as a piece of physical theatre, arms as jaws with a multi-layered voice. The effect was powerful. 

Thor struggles to save his brother from Hel. Photograph © Jane Hobson.

This was a community production, written by Maureen Lennon, featuring a local ensemble cast and live choir performances. The production is directed by creative director, Juliet Forster, and associate artist, John R Wilkinson, assistant director is Misha Duncan-Barry, with movement direction by Xolani Crabtree, set design by Sara Perks, costume design by Hazel Jupp, AV design by David Callanan, and lighting design by Craig Kilmartin.

To truly appreciate every aspect of this performance, visit the York Theatre Royal before 6th August, and immerse yourself in the Viking world bought back to life.