Kynren success is down to its volunteers, says man who bankrolls it

The epic Kynren starts its second season this weekend with a cast of 1,500 actors and crew. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.
The epic Kynren starts its second season this weekend with a cast of 1,500 actors and crew. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

A City financier who put tens of millions of pounds into a spectacular North East show which races through 2,000 years of English history says it's the volunteers who have taken ownership of the production.

The epic Kynren starts its second season this weekend with a cast of 1,500 actors and crew, many of whom are from Bishop Auckland, the County Durham town whose fortunes it was created to improve.

Organisers of the spectacular Kynren show hope it will do even better in 2017. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

Organisers of the spectacular Kynren show hope it will do even better in 2017. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

The outdoor night-time performances, which feature battles, jousting and an arresting firework finale on a bend of the River Wear below Auckland Castle, attracted more than 100,000 visitors last year.

And with more performances scheduled for this summer, the organisers hope the feel-good show will do even better in 2017.

Philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, who is worth more than £400million according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, said local people have already taken on the project as their own.

They have been professionally trained over months to dance, ride horses, battle with swords and shoot flaming arrows.

The outdoor night-time performances feature battles, jousting and a firework finale. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

The outdoor night-time performances feature battles, jousting and a firework finale. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

Some of the strongest scenes are the mass choreography set pieces, such as the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Mr Ruffer, who spent £35million last year setting up Kynren, said: "You have nothing without the volunteers.

"If you said to them 'Whose show is this?', the answer is 'It's ours. We were the ones who stood in the cold doing the practice for hours, who threw our lives into it'.

"People have something to be proud of that they have done.

Many of the volunteers who make up the Kynren cast are local people. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

Many of the volunteers who make up the Kynren cast are local people. Pic: Peter Hayward/PA Wire.

"My hope for Kynren, and it is a hope that is well on the way to being fulfilled, is that it is something that will become part of the region as the Edinburgh Festival is to Edinburgh."

There have been some changes to the 90-minute show this year, including the introduction of Boudicca on horseback, a larger cast of waddling geese, and some tweaks to the script to iron out kinks, Mr Ruffer said.

And with 500 more volunteers than 2016, scenes played out on a stage the size of five football pitches, complete with a lake, take on an even grander scale.

Mr Ruffer, 65, could not disagree with one critic who described the show as "Britain's most bonkers".

He said: "The first year was a real nail-biter, you are thinking 'will it actually happen?'. The first night last year, we had to hide the diggers behind an aspidistra."

Mr Ruffer hoped that families would see Kynren as an annual outing, similar to a Premier League football match for people without a season ticket.

"What we want is repeat visitors, and if the thing is the same as last year, there's less of an incentive," he said.

In his professional life in investment, he was "ultra-cautious" with "no exuberance" and "as dull as they come", he said.

"What I felt with Kynren, it was out and out speculation, and the chances of it working were, on paper, somewhere between nil and zippo.

"What I could see was that if it did work, the social impact would be greater than 10 times than if the money was coming from Government sources."

He predicted other philanthropists, some of whom are currently helping academies, could follow his lead and invest in similar schemes elsewhere.

But he admitted he would be "spitting" if he saw anyone else put a show on anywhere near as well as Kynren.

The production is run by a charity and tickets costing £25-£55 for adults and £19-£41 for children are available from www.kynren.co.uk