Rehearsals have begun for this summer's large-scale community theatre production The Coppergate Woman. STEVE PRATT reports

“If you have a sticker and need to be measured…”

Producer Thom Freeth’s voice echoed around York Theatre Royal’s crowded foyer in an attempt to get people registered, measured for costumes and into the auditorium.

Saturday May 14 was not only a big day for sport and Eurovision but also the theatre’s 2022 community production.

After the call-out for participants and the preparatory group meetings it was the first full company meeting – a read-through of The Coppergate Woman on stage.

A total of 312 people aged 11 to 79 applied to take part, and 98 attended the read-through.

The Theatre Royal has garnered praise for community productions, most recently the Suffragettes play, Everything Is Possible.

The word ‘community’ isn’t used lightly. This isn’t just a showcase for performers. Everyone can get involved in backstage and production tasks, from costumes to marketing, under the watchful eye of theatre professionals. As Chief Executive Tom Bird said it’s about ‘turning theatre inside out’.

York Press:

Cast members at the first read-though. Picture: John Saunders

The pandemic means five years have passed since the last community production. This one is indoors at the theatre, not outdoors as has happened in the past.

But the scale of the production remains epic, as Viking gods ‘invade’ modern-day York. Childhood memories of visits to Jorvik led Maureen Lennon to write The Coppergate Woman, whose bones were discovered by the Foss. Her skeleton is on view at Jorvik.

York Press:

Co-director Juliet Forster meets the Coppergate Woman (or at least her skeleton). Picture: Ant Robling

Seeing the name Loki among the characters you half expect Tom Hiddleston to materialise. Someone will sum up the story as The Vikings Meet Marvel.

The narrative sees the Coppergate Woman leaving her glass case to visit today’s York to help folk fearful of Ragnarok - ‘the end of the world’ and clearly Not a Good Thing.

Meanwhile in the real present day York, with everyone suitably stickered and measured, the auditorium has filled up.

Co-director Juliet Forster and John R. Wilkinson have chosen those who’ll read roles. Vanessa stands in for the yet-to be-cast professional actor who will play the Coppergate Woman.

York Press:

The cast at the first read-through. Picture: John Saunders

For the first time a York community production is using a video designer who, judging by the stage directions will have plenty to do obeying stage direction demands such as ‘the Coppergate Woman flies into the sky’ and ‘trees burst into flames'.

  • The Coppergate Woman, staged with Jorvik, will run at York Theatre Royal from July 30 to August 6. Box office 01904 623568/