DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Coppergate Woman – York Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Maureen Lennon

Co-Directors: Juliet Forster and John R. Wilkinson

The problem with community plays is that you have two different standards by which to judge them: as community projects or as plays. As a community project, The Coppergate Woman is an outstanding success; as a play, it’s a pretty tedious two hours, though relieved by striking moments.

First of all, there are the numbers, at a quick computation, around 130, plus half a dozen in the pit – pretty impressive, though it must be confessed that separating one group from another on stage is a bit of a problem. Then there is the quality of the community performers: Nicola Wild, Joanne Rule, Darren Barrott and, especially, Ilya Cuthell are excellent as the main humans. The Norse gods make their impact, whether in stately dignity, limping deviousness or impassioned loyalty. A word here for Fenrir the giant wolf and the six young folk who animate him.

Not only that, but the co-directors deserve enormous credit for matching all and sundry to parts that suit: the admirable choir, for instance, or the blocks of figures (Norns apparently) who form, chant or simply group into tableaux.

So far, so impressive.

The difficulty lies mainly with Maureen Lennon’s text. In the Jorvik Museum, there is the body of a middle-aged woman. Lennon brings her to life, mysteriously converts her to a god and lets her loose on a York that is looking to the end of the world. It must be said that recent developments in terms of covid and climate change lend some credibility to this idea, though in this case it’s violent rain, thunder and lightning – very nicely handled – that cause the panic.

Now, as a Norse god, the woman has some experience of Ragnarok, the Destruction of the Gods, possibly the end of the world, so she weaves in four Norse tales with stories of people in York. This sounds promising, but in fact large chunks of narration carry much of the story. Songs, when they come, do nothing to relieve the mood, Nicolas Lewis perhaps limited by the community choir he is writing for.

And sadly Kate Hampson, the only professional actor, seems determined not to upstage the amateurs in a very even performance, with reams of narration understated. She is intelligent, but without really involving the audience in her transformation.

The ever-experienced Sara Perks gives us an attractive set with the world and the heavens hinted at, Mike Redley (sound) and Craig Kilmartin (lighting) provide moments of drama and Juliet Forster and John R. Wilkinson marshal their forces expertly for a highly successful community project.

Runs until 7th August 2022.

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Successful community project

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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