10 open air theatres for Summer
Outdoor theatres are popping up for the Summer with anything from Shakespeare to Wind in the Willows.
There’s something magical about theatre alfresco. I remember seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent Park Open Air Theatre with thistledown drifting across the stage and my schoolfriends and I swooning over the actor playing Puck. Meanwhile my mum recalls a Shakespeare performance at Cornwall’s famous Minack Theatre being halted while audience and cast peered over the cliff to see a basking shark! Here’s where you can make your own memories at (shark-free) open air theatre in Sussex and nearby this summer.
Various adults and family shows, Brighton Open Air Theatre, various dates until 24 Sept
B.O.A.T in Dyke Road Park is just a couple of years old and when I visited recently for the first time for an afternoon of comedy I was really impressed. It’s a lovely space to lounge with a picnic, sitting on astroturf with a back rest against the next level. Naturally there’s a packed summer programme from Wind in the Willows (5 Jul) via Othello (12 -15 Jul) to Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills – the one where adults play wartime children (19 – 22 July), She Stops to Conquer (27 -29 Jul), Pride and Prejudice (17 Aug) family-friendly Princess and the Pig (25 Aug) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (9 Sept) plus stand up, bands, poetry slams and more.
Drunkard and Entertaining Angels The Pergola Open Air Theatre, West Dean Gardens, 26 June – 8 July
This pop-up outdoor theatre is hosting two productions for the Festival of Chichester. Rollicking Victorian melodrama Drunkard or Down with Demon Drink by Brian J. Burton and Entertaining Angels by Richard Everett – a comedy set in a vicarage garden. Tickets are £10 for adults, £8 for under-16s. The garden restaurant will be open beforehand.
Classics and family theatre, The Hawth ampitheatre, Crawley, various dates Jul & Aug
The Hawth’s woodland grounds include an ampitheatre which this summer is hosting performances of popular classics from Illyria Theatre and This is My Theatre. Everyone’s favourite romance Pride and Prejudice is next up on Wed 12 July and then on Sat 22 July the witches will be gathering for Macbeth – a one-act production performed with live Celtic music and modern characterisation. On Thurs 26 July is Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado. August sees family favourites The Emperor’s New Clothes (Sat 5 Aug) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dinosaur-themed tale The Lost World (Friday 25 Aug). Tickets for all shows are £15 for adults, £38 for a family of four.
The Commercial Traveller, various Sussex locations and dates in Jul and Aug
Outdoor theatre group The Rude Mechanicals are rocking up at green spaces in Sussex to perform The Commercial Traveller alfresco. Set in London in 1924 it concerns a tycoon and former East End barrow boy unhappy that his son is in love with the hard-up girl next door. A tangled tale of enforced exile, hatched marriage plans and suspicious death follows. Pitched at adults (£16/£12 students), it’s suitable for older children too (£9). Stops include Eastbourne, Barcombe, Crowhurst, Lewes, Burwash, St Leonards, Alfriston, Hartfield, Wadhurst and Michelham Priory. See the website for the full list.
The Wheel House, Steyne Gardens / Broadwater Green Worthing, 17 July / Sat 22 July
As part of Worthing’s brilliant Summer of Circus, free, family-friendly show The Wheel House will be performed outdoors, combining acrobatics with a clever rolling theatre set. It’s a post-apocolyptic love story with the performance taking place inside and outside the wheel with the audience walking alongside. It will be at Steyne Gardens on 17 July and Broadwater Green on Sat 22 July with two afternoon performances on each day.
The Comedy of Errors, Italian Gardens, Eastbourne Wed 26 Jul – Sat 5 Aug
EODS Productions is presenting Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in Eastbourne’s Italian Gardens. Egeon has just 24 hours to find his missing twin son and twin servant or face death in Ephesus. The fact that both sets of identical twins, unknown to each other, find themselves in Ephesus inevitably leads to a series of mishaps involving wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, arrest and accusations of infidelity, theft, madness and demonic possession. Tickets are from £15. Beer, wine, tea, coffee and cake are available.
Adult and child-friendly plays, Leeds Castle, Kent, various dates Jul -Sept
Hoping over the border into Kent, Leeds Castle has a great line-up of outdoor theatre as part of its Celebrate Summertime season. It includes Romeo and Juliet on Sat 22 July, Hamlet on Sat 5 Aug, family-friendly Wind In the Willows on Thurs 17 and Fri 18 Aug and Pride and Prejudice on 2 Sept. There are various other concerts and kids’ activities on at the castle besides and outdoor cinema too – see my films round up here.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Arundel Castle Fri 25 – Sat 26 Aug
Surely the most-performed outdoor play ever, The Dream‘s woodland setting lends itself perfectly to alfresco stagings and here’s a setting lovelier than most. The performance will take place in the Collector Earl’s Garden at Arundel Castle. It’s also a perfect opportunity to introduce kids to Shakespeare. Advance tickets are £27.50 for adults, £17 for children. The gardens will be open for picnics from 5.30pm plus hog roasts and drinks will be available. Seating is provided.
The Festival Theatre, Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent, July and Aug
The Festival Theatre is an open air venue set in the gardens of Hever Castle in a stunning location on the Two Sisters Lawn. The stage is fully covered and the seating is tiered with most seats under new seating canopies, which means no worries if the sun doesn’t perform. There’s loads to see from The Rat Pack to opera and Shakespeare to comedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor is up next on 18 July and Wind in the Willows and The Lost World – mentioned elsewhere – are stopping in to help keep kids occupied in August.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London
It involves trekking into London, but it’s absolutely worth it for an evening at this picturesque fairy-light strewn theatre, which is the big daddy of al fresco performances spaces – and the London Theatre Of The Year in 2016’s The Stage awards, no less. This summer’s extensive programme includes A Tale of Two Cities (7 July – 5 August), a brand new adaptation of the Dickens tome that’s alarmingly topical once again. Then there’s a family-friendly Oliver Twist (17 July – 5 Aug) suitable for children age 6+. Finally, it’s the turn of the Olivier and Evening Standard award-winning Jesus Christ Superstar (11 August 2017 – 23 September 2017), by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Have I missed anything brilliant off the list? Let me know in the comment box below!