Review: The Coppergate Woman at York Theatre Royal

After an uncertain and rather slow start The Coppergate Woman gathered momentum and burst into life, using stunning effects: lighting, sound and AV which matched anything I have seen on stage, outside the West End.

By Angie Millard

Juliet Foster and John R. Wilkinson have created an epic production while employing a huge cast of local actors who are well rehearsed and totally secure.

They have also made sure that the actors all have lines and are fully part of the story telling. Maureen Lennon has written a poetic script to illuminate a little known part of York’s history. Norse Mythology and contemporary characters are interwoven to tell a tale about the end of our world. Four main protagonists represent society and its problems and their stories are told with the help of a chorus. These are the Norns who are deities responsible for the fate and destinies of humans and Gods. In this way, mythology is used to provide the audience with much of the drama and spectacle, and the link is the use of Coppergate Woman, a skeleton in a glass case in the Jorvik museum. She is played in an understated manner by Kate Hampson and thereby provides a perfect frame for the cast. 

Ensemble work is the key. A wolf is represented by a group moving and howling in unison. Their costumes include teeth along the length of two actors’ arms which present a huge jaw. The strong visual tableau of God Loki, played by Edward Hammond, imprisoned in chains as a punishment while his wife (Catherine Edge) faithfully stays by him catching the venom of a serpent in a bowl. There is also use of physical theatre, most effective when Thor (Andrew Isherwood) becomes entangled in a band signifying his frustration. A Viking ship is magically conjured up using the movement of actors, a sail and a prow. Many uses are made of the web of fate: signified by wide bands which became a trap or an escape. Visual representation is the basic theatrical vocabulary, accompanied by atmospheric music and orchestration.

The named human characters were an important part of the tale. Tom (Darren Barrot), a lost soul whose brother is in a coma, Fern (Joanne Rule), agoraphobic and lonely, Sarah (Nicola Wild), an overworked nurse, and Liv, her neglected daughter. All these key roles were played with supreme conviction and the message of the play rested on their shoulders.

Returning to the spectacle of the production, the costume provides diverse texture, contrast and colour, the simple set of steps and boxes is altered from scene to scene with clever lighting and a suspended circle represents planets and natural phenomena as it hangs above. While David Callanan has created magic with his AV design, it is supported by superb lighting effects. The orchestra, choir and musical background were the final touch which took this Community production to a new level. Congratulations must go to Nicholas Lewis and his team.

Tuesday night was a sell out so you’d better get on down to York theatre Royal box office quickly.

The Coppergate Woman is playing at York Theatre Royal until 7 August. The Directors are Juliet Forster and John R. Wilkinson. The Assistant is Misha Duncan-Barry. The Writer is Maureen Lennon. The Set Designeris Sarah Perks. The AV Designer is David Callan. The Movement Directoris Xolani Crabtree. The Composer and Musical Director is Nicholas Lewis. The Vocal Musical Director is Madeleine Hudson. The Lighting designer is Craig Kilmartin. The Sound Designer and Engineer is Mike Redley. The Costume Designer is Hazel Jupp. The Stage manager is Anna Belderboss. The Deputy Stage Manager is Sarah Wardle. The Assistant Stage Manager is Grace Branch.