A darkened stage. Silence. A figure - a woman - sits in a glass cage.

She stirs, takes in a breath: ohhh! Her hands press the glass. It creaks, groans, shatters.

After a thousand years, the Coppergate woman - the Viking woman whose skeleton has slumbered in that glass cage in Jorvik for visitors to gawp at - has awoken.

So begins The Coppergate Woman, the latest community play staged by York Theatre Royal to feature a cast of ordinary York men and women.

York Press:

The Coppergate woman awakens

Written by Maureen Lennon, directed by Juliet Forster and John R Wilkinson and starring Kate Hampson in the title role – the only professional actor in a cast of almost 100 – the play imagines what might happen if that skeleton at Jorvik really did come to life to help the people of York in their hour of need.

For the Coppergate woman herself, there's delight at returning life; and a moment of comedy as she reads the information panel on her glass case. 'A woman over 45?' She pulls a face. '44!' Then she begins to wonder. 'What am I doing here?'

We've already met the people of York; a tired, harried nurse, Sarah, and her young daughter Liv; and a collection of modern-day wraiths, the city's people, all anxious, fretting, depressed. They join in a chorus of the lost - not sure what's wrong, knowing only that something is.

The Coppergate woman has been brought back to life, it transpires, to help them grapple with Ragnarok, the Viking end of the world.

It’s an end that has come with a whimper, not a bang - through austerity, recession, the breakdown of community. Covid isn’t mentioned, but it's there, in references to empty streets, children imprisoned in their homes.

We meet Fern, a deeply troubled woman - 'clinically vulnerable' - who for a year has been unable to leave her home, frightened of outside. There's Tom, desperately trying to pluck up courage to visit his brother in hospital. And there's Sarah, the nurse, always working, working, with no time to rest, no time for her daughter - but wondering always what the point is.

York Press:

Fern, surrounded by the Norns who weave her destiny

These human stories are interwoven with the story of the war among the gods. Fenrir, the giant wolf that wants to devour the sun, snaps and snarls across the stage, magnificently brought to life by a group of children moving and growling as one. Loki, the god of mischief, is tricked and chained deep beneath the earth by his fearful fellow gods.

It's magnificently staged on a minimalist set straight out of Wagner, all darkness slashed by bursts of green and orange. The chorus are in pure full voice, the original music by Nicolas Lewis sometimes eerie, sometimes powerful, sometimes full of dread.

The end comes in the form of lashing rain, rising waters, floods.

Loki - beautifully played by Edward Hammond, all sinuous menace - breaks free. Hell is loosed.

York Press:

The Coppergate woman with Liv

But the Coppergate woman is there to remind the people of modern-day York what they've forgotten: that hope lies with other people. In a final scene she rises above the stage, arms extended like the wings of a pagan angel, while the people of York burst into song again - this time their words about community and togetherness.

That ending is a little too easy. But in these weary, divided, uncertain times the simple message - of the value of community, hope, togetherness - is one we'd all do well to bear in mind.

The Coppergate Woman runs at York Theatre Royal until Sunday. Box office: 01904 633568/ yorktheatreroyal.co.uk