Outdoor theatre across the UK
Bubbly, the Bard and blankets: this summer’s must-see al fresco performances
From Shakespeare in royal parks to musicals on a clifftop and dance performances on a riverbank, this summer offers a wide variety of wonderful open-air productions in the UK. Here are some the must-see shows over the coming months – contact us to secure tickets or for more recommendations near you.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park, London
The lack of roof doesn’t deter the UK’s premier open-air theatre from staging full-blown productions with high-tech sets, lighting, sound and the odd bit of pyrotechnics. This summer, the programme mixes adaptations of the classics and revamped versions of much-loved musicals.
The annual open-air season at the royal park leads by example when it comes to outdoor theatre. Tucked away in a secluded corner of the park, the leafy setting makes you forget the hustle and bustle of Central London while you settle down pre-show with a bottle of wine and a burger straight from the barbecue. The tall trees towering above the stage combined with the idyllic fairy lights surrounding the performance space give the whole experience an almost ethereal touch, as the lines between stage and nature become blurred.
The programme is just as inviting as the setting. Until the end of July theatre buffs can immerse themselves in Shakespeare's As You Like It before the festival moves on to musicals with a high-energy performance of Little Shop of Horrors. The story follows geeky shop assistant, Seymour, whose life changes when he discovers a mysterious killer plant that attracts a great deal of attention. The flourishing surroundings of the park are sure to add an extra flair to the show and keep the audience on its toes. Finally, the smallest theatre-goers can take pleasure in life-like dinosaurs claiming the park as their own with Dinosaur World Live. Our tip: opt for an evening performance and watch the setting sun add a bit of extra drama.
The Globe Theatre
21 New Globe Walk, Southwark, London
Most open-air theatre programmes across the land will include at least one of Shakespeare’s great works, but nothing can beat an afternoon or evening on the Bard's home turf. Perched on the Southbank of the Thames approximately 100 yards from where the original open-roof theatre was located, the reconstructed venue allows its audience the unique opportunity to experience Shakespeare's work the way audiences did 500 years ago. If you don’t mind being at the mercy of the elements, then choose the full ‘Groundlings’ experience. Just £5 will secure you a yard ticket so you can gaze up at the actors and intricate stage designs. Not a fan of ‘roughing it’? Then ask us to book a place on the covered benches, safe from any potential downpour. Cushions are available.
Despite keeping the audience experience traditional, The Globe does offer an exciting mixture of old and new when it comes to programming. Shakespeare fans can still enjoy the classics such as Hamlet (until 26 August) with The Globe’s new artistic director Michelle Terry in the title role and Othello (until 13 October) with Olivier Award-winning actor Mark Rylance. Craving for something a bit more contemporary? The Globe champions new writing which is showcased this season with performances of Emilia (10 August – 1 September) and Eyam (15 September – 13 October), two plays written to complement the playing conditions of the Globe.
Opera Holland Park
Ilchester Place, Kensington, London
In the heart of Holland Park, among the semi-wild woodland and formal gardens, a marquee rises up to bring you opera's finest work. The purpose-built canopy is semi-open so that both arias and light summer breezes can reach you, but potential rain is kept at bay.
Holland Park commits to introducing the lesser-known work to its audience. Strauss’s comedy, Ariadne auf Naxos (until 27 July), introduces a backstage clash between a troupe of tragic actors and a gang of comedians vying for the same performance slot. Isabeau by Luigi Illica (until 28 July) is a libretto drawing inspiration from the medieval legend of Lady Godiva which relays the tragedy of a king’s daughter who is punished for refusing to choose a suitor. Marvel at Holland House which serves as a backdrop for the festival, while enjoying a picnic in in the park’s lustrous surroundings and discover the hidden gems of opera.
National Theatre’s River Stage
Upper Ground, Lambeth, London SE1 9PX
Understandably, remaining seated and focused on a performance while a warm summer day beckons can seem like an impossible commitment. Luckily, the National Theatre excels at forethought with its annual free outdoor festival. Live music, family workshops, theatre... this event has it all.
Each weekend sees a different company take over the stage presenting their own unique repertoire from cabaret by The Glory to classical music with a twist by nonclassical (3-5 August). We are particularly excited about Sadler’s Wells’ appearance in August, presenting some of their renowned dance acts and workshops. Break away from the culture by enjoying an al fresco bite at one of the summer pop-ups overlooking the Thames. Tasty grilled sandwiches and wood fired pizzas can be washed down with a refreshing cocktail from the Apothecary Cocktail Bar or a frosé, an ice cold rosé from The Wine Box. For an overview of all performers and help to plan your day, contact us.
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
Grosvenor Park, Chester
This open-air festival gives Regent's Park a run for its money with its relaxed atmosphere and engaging shows drawing a large crowd each year. The organisers encourage its audience to break standard theatre etiquette by indulging in a picnic and a drink while enjoying the show. Any form of weather is welcomed, as sun, rain or even the odd thunderstorm are considered to be a fun extra, making every show different. However, if you prefer to have a dry outdoor experience, covered seats are available.
The festival strives to make a visit as family friendly as possible with accessible performances of the mandatory classics as well as more family-orientated shows. Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest fill the Shakespeare slots, while Swallows and Amazons is ready to take a younger audience on an adventure with pirates and treasure hunts. Enjoy a picnic under the sun or some fine wine under the stars while watching quality acts; Grosvenor Park is one of open-air theatre's best kept secrets, making a trip to Chester more than worth it. All shows are running until 26 August.
Theatre on Kew: Alice in Wonderland
Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond, London
If you are lacking inspiration to keep the younger ones entertained this summer, a tea party with some special guests might do the trick. Don’t be surprised if you genuinely start to believe you stumbled down a rabbit hole, as Kew Gardens has created a wonderland of its own. Boasting a whopping 300 acres, the luscious scenery has exotic flowers and plants which could come to life any minute, woodland that could serve as a maze full of secrets and royal houses fit for the Queen of Hearts.
And now you can actually join Alice, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Mad Hatter on their adventures as The Australian Shakespeare Company bring their highly acclaimed immersive production to the gardens with colourful costumes, interactive games and catchy songs. Make a day out of it with the family by enjoying the show in the morning and spending the rest of the day getting lost in the gardens. The show is running throughout school holidays until 27 August – contact us for tickets.
Few of the world’s stages can beat this Cornish theatre’s clifftop setting. Just four miles from Land’s End, the amphitheatre is carved into the granite cliff face, with views from the raked seating stretching along Porthcurno Bay to Logan Rock and across the Atlantic to the horizon.
And as if that wasn't enough, the seasonal programme is excellent, comprising classics that are on most theatre enthusiasts' bucket lists. Experience Me and My Girl, Candid, The Cherry Orchard, Sweeney Todd and many more shows with the sound of crashing waves in the background. With over 100,000 spectators each summer, this little outdoor performance space has been enchanting audiences for more than 80 years. Make sure to pay it a visit on your next trip to Cornwall, if not to enjoy a show, then to simply to explore the amazing spot. The annual season finishes on 14 October.