THE fourth season of Kynren began on Saturday night in spectacular style with rampaging Vikings burning a Saxon village to the ground on the edge of Bishop Auckland.

Kynren is a staggering live show on an epic scale, with a cast of a thousand – plus scores of geese, sheep, goats and charging horses - romping through 2,000 years of largely North-East history in 90 minutes across a super widescreen stage.

Saturday's press preview revealed that this year, there are lots of little tweaks and enhancements to the show which TripAdvisor’s reviewers place in the top five live experiences in the country, and major work has been done on the Viking invasion.

A Viking village has been built behind a palisade just outside the performance area so pre-show visitors can mingle amid the geese and goats and the mud and smoke of the re-enactment, and experience first hand the fire and fury of the invaders’ shieldwall.

In the main show, the Vikings rise out of the lake on their longboat – a bewildering effect – before raping and pillaging and setting fire to the unfortunate Saxon’s hilltop settlement. The flames light up the darkening night and their warmth can be felt in the grandstand.

For us on Saturday, of all the centuries of battlescenes enacted on the stage, the most important was going on in the clouds overhead. We had spent the afternoon, with rain falling in sheets, rummaging in forgotten drawers looking for weatherproof trousers and waterproof blankets, but the closer we drove to Bishop Auckland, the auto-wipe of the windscreen became less frequent, blue sky was spotted over Brusselton, and the last raindrop fell as we pulled into the car park.

Indeed, in the minutes before curtain-up, the clouds parted to reveal an enormous full moon hanging above Auckland Castle which is the backdrop to the seven-and-a-half acre stage. Fortunately, we’d found an old travel blanket because, by 11pm beneath County Durham skies, you need to be warmly wrapped up.

In a nod to the weather, one of the other new effects in the show is an early thunderstorm, with explosive lightning and seat-rumbling thunder.

A horsewoman tears across the stage on fire, literally dripping flames, A prisoner is brutally dragged behind a horse, a Viking is beautifully disembowelled from beneath on a bridge, and a herd of sheep sprints several hundred yards to applause from the crowd.

The sheep always get applause although the real stars are the 1,000-plus local volunteers who give up their summers to make up the cast and crew (and to line the pathways down from the car park with their red jackets and warm smiles). This year, the horsemanship seems to be up a level with the riders galloping faster than ever in the tournament scene, and the stage seems to be more full of actors more of the time. The British Empire dance scene has scores of captivating vignettes being acted out simultaneously, and the Durham Miners’ Gala is full of children enjoying the music while rockets fly over their heads.

For all the grandness of the scale and the epicness of the effects, there is room for genuine humour – “sacre bleurgh” exclaims a Frenchman in a Monty Pythonesque accent as he dies – and for real pathos. The pit disaster is perhaps the most moving scene, with smoke drifting through the mourning widows and the miners’ hymn Gresford is played by a colliery band as the horsedrawn hearses trundle slowly to Durham Cathedral which magically appears in a waterspray.

After a mention of Windrush, Kynren builds to an unashamedly, tub-thumpingly patriotic finale. The stage is flooded with a staggering number of actors, a huge Union flag is unfurled as Land of Hope and Glory concludes with a magnificent firework display. It is majestic.

And here it all is on our doorstep in Bishop Auckland on the banks of the Wear.

As Kynren enters its fourth year, perhaps local people have become blasé about its presence and, indeed, its brilliance.

The first of 11 shows is on Saturday, June 29 – the 50th performance – and then it is on every Saturday (apart from August 3) until September 14. Tickets range from £25 to £59. Start times vary from 9.30pm to 7.30pm as the dark evenings draw in.