London's Brightest and Best Outdoor Theatres cover photo

London's Brightest and Best Outdoor Theatres

London's Brightest and Best Outdoor Theatres cover photo
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Stage Savvy
3 Jun 2021 · Follow on Stagedoor

Last week, Shakespeare's Globe opened its long-awaited A Midsummer Night's Dream to an audience that was so, so ready to enjoy it: right from the opening moments, where a jazz band play covers of cheesy wedding disco songs, to the final bows as the sun started to set.

Outdoor theatre feels like a celebration at the best of times - but after a chilly spring indoors, and with Mardi Gras streamers decking the Wooden 'O', this felt like a full-on party (albeit one where everyone has to stay sitting down).

Where most big European cities will have joyful outdoor arts festivals come Summer, the UK's weather has traditionally made it a bit of a hard sell: but with the combined effects of Covid-19 and a year of outdoor socialising that's made our collective skin as hard as rhinos, it's coming into its own. Here are the places to go for an al fresco show:

Photo: John Wildgood

🌻 Shakespeare's Globe

They knew a thing or two about plague-dodging in Shakespeare's day: this meticulously authentic Renaissance-style playhouse has spacious tiered galleries that make social distancing a breeze. This summer, it's staging a bright and cheery line-up of the bard's biggest hits: Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, The Tempest and Romeo & Juliet. And best of all, world events haven't put paid to the theatre's famous £5 'groundlings' tickets - although these days, you'll be sitting nicely on a chair instead of standing up.

Photo: Tom J Anderson

🌻 Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

This leafy gem has a claim to being London's most beautiful theatre; instead of gilt and cherubs it's decorated by delicate silver birch trees and scudding clouds. It's set in a hollow, with an impressive acoustic that lends itself to musicals: this Summer, directorial dreamteam Timothy Sheader and Drew McOnie are going for brooding classic Carousel, which will play alongside a fresh take on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

Gifford's Circus. Photo: Jem Hall

🌻 Chiswick House & Gardens

Visiting this 18th century mansion is like a holiday in microcosm: it's got stunning Italian-inspired gardens, tropical plant-filled glasshouses, and (this summer) a circus that's like being transported back to your childhood (only this time, you're not going to cry when the ringleader cracks the whip). The Hooley is housed in an old-school circus tent, and takes inspiration from Celtic myths and magic: leprechauns, pixies, wild horses, and a rabble-rousing fiddle band to get the crowds' feet stomping.

Photo: Steve Cadman

🌻 Covent Garden Actor's Church

It's hard to cross Covent Garden's crowded piazzas without being roped into doing something vaguely embarrassing in a street-performer's show. But slip through the tucked-away entrance to St Paul's Church and you'll find a churchyard sanctuary dedicated to a more decorous kind of outdoor theatre. This year, its resident company Iris Theatre are hosting a festival that's making room for some of the artists who've been denied an indoor platform this year: like Queen Mab which centres on a bored teenager in lockdown who gets visited by an ancient being, or Can You See Into a Black Hole?, which explores seizures and what it's like to go on an adventure inside your own brain.

We'll keep you updated as more new shows set up camp in parks, squares, and fields across London - with sunshine on the forecast and foreign holidays (mostly) off the cards, the city's theatremakers are primed to make this a summer to remember.

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