STEVE PRATT discovers how childhood trips to Jorvik inspired York Theatre Royal’s latest community play

As a child growing in Hull, writer Maureen Lennon liked nothing more than a trip to the Jorvik Viking Centre in York.

“Every school holiday I’d drag my Dad there for a day out,” she recalls.“It was such a different experience to most museums, everyone says it but … the smell! Other than that I didn’t know much about the Vikings beyond a Horrible History book.”

She knows much more now after writing this summer’s community production The Coppergate Woman for York Theatre Royal. She was asked for a play that engaged with York’s Viking history and to “see how stories of our ancestors might bridge the gap between their world and our world right now. What could we learn from each other?”

She jumped at the chance of working on a project “that talked about community, togetherness, and the power of storytelling in our societies.”

Revisiting Jorvik as an adult Maureen found inspiration in the Coppergate Woman, whose skeleton is on permanent view there. Information gleaned from examination of the bones helped shape the model of one of the figures in Jorvik’s displays of Viking life.

The woman's remains were found by archaeologists in a shallow pit on a site near the River Foss in Coppergate. Examination of the body has determined that she was 5ft 2in and most likely had a limp due to a genetic disorder. The evidence suggests she was from just after or around the Viking era.

“There is something so confronting about the fact that she is on display. A real example of two worlds meeting – she is in our world whether she likes it or not,” explains Maureen.

“I wondered if she was lonely. I wondered who she had been and what she would think about me staring at her now. It felt intimate and yet so much about her was unknown. I wanted to give her the power to look at us just like I was looking at her in that moment. I wanted her to speak – although obviously in reality I’m glad she didn’t.”

In the play the woman time-trips to modern day York to help folk face their own version of the Vikings end of the world story Ragnarok. “It’s about hope and heartache and loss and starting again, together,” says Maureen.

The Coppergate Woman is being presented in partnership with Jorvik, which is behind Europe’s biggest Viking Festival, which continues in York until June 1.