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Ask Lyn: Outdoor Theatre

Ask Lyn: Outdoor Theatre

Ask Lyn: Outdoor Theatre cover photo on Stagedoor
"Dear Lyn, I’m very keen to get back to the theatre and I have my eye on the Back to the Future musical and the new Bob Marley Musical, Get Up, Stand Up for later in the year. But I’d like to see theatre outdoors before then. What will be available?" - Hedda, Stoke Newington

Dear Hedda,
I think you are going to be in luck. I’m confident we will see an explosion of outdoor theatre over the summer, and I don’t just mean the opportunity to see Mamma Mia outside at Harewood House in Yorkshire or to attend the Minack Theatre in Cornwall or to check out Pitlochry’s new outdoor amphitheatre in Scotland. Last summer it was outdoor theatre that thrived in London and on many scales including both the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the tiny Garden Theatre in Vauxhall.

Plans have not yet been announced for either of those venues, but last week Shakespeare's Globe (no roof so definitely counts as outside) announced a tasty summer season that includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Sophie Russell as Bottom, Romeo and Juliet with Alfred Enoch and Rebekah Murrell and Twelfth Night with Michelle Terry as Viola. That’s good news for starters.

The Arcola’s new outdoor space Arcola Outside should be operating from May or June, Battersea Arts Centre has just announced its outdoor Free Up Festival and of course we can expect the excellent Greenwich and Docklands Festival in late August and early September. It is but a short train ride from Waterloo to Winchester where the annual Hat Fair resumes in early July for the first time since almost 100,000 people attended in 2019. This year’s festival will be ticketed and socially distanced. Or check out the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (from May 17) and the Brighton Festival (May dates tbc) which will both include outdoor work.

My guess is that virus permitting, there will be much more announced as we move into Spring and early summer, but I also think it is worth looking local as I suspect that is where lots of outdoor theatre will spring up this summer in parks and local public spaces. Theatremakers will be nimble and ingenious. Expect audio walking tours and experiences that allow you to participate in theatre but without being amidst a crowd.

Without Walls, the commissioning programme that has done for outdoor arts what Unlimited has done for disabled art, has 21 new shows ready to go including Requardt & Rosenberg’s Future Cargo, Kaleider’s brilliant Robot Selfie and Gravity and Levity’s Why? That’s something to cheer.

I’m hoping that necessity may well breed invention and that it might bring about a long overdue change in attitude about outdoor theatre. Less than 20 years ago, we tended to turn our noses up about alfresco dining and said the UK didn’t have the climate for it. Now it’s everywhere. As a nation, we’ve always been quite keen on picnic theatre (Great Aunt Cecily says Shakespeare always slips down easier when accompanied a Scotch egg and a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc) but also quite snooty about devised outdoor shows, often assuming visual spectacle must mean a lack of content or meaning. Anyone who saw The Sultan’s Elephant in London or La Princesse in Liverpool will know that is nonsense.

So, I’m hoping that we will have a summer of outdoor theatre and performance and that we will realise that they are not just for this summer but for every summer.

Cover Image from the Globe Theatre's A Midsummer Night's dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

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Lyn Gardner

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