Yes, I know that last week's snow is still lingering dirtily, like an unwanted guest after a house party. But it's a meteorological certainty that there's sunshine on the way, and with it, a welcome excuse to soak up some culture in a relatively Covid-19-safe way.
Last summer, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre was one of the first London spaces to reopen its doors; and it was quickly joined by new outdoor ventures like Vauxhall Garden Theatre and New Normal Festival. In a world of dwindling audience confidence and ever-changing government rules, fresh air really is a tonic. This time round, venues have had longer to plan, and we're hearing whispers of plans from theatres across the UK. Here are some of the first signs of a summer of al-fresco culture...
This new outdoor space is seriously, seriously smart; it's part of Arcola's collab with Imperial College, which brings together theatre designers, scientists and engineers to create a theatre that's custom-built to reduce virus transmission. Built on an open square near Arcola Theatre in Dalston, it'll host a breezy theatre festival this summer.
Yes, it looks like a multi-storey car park crossed with a child prodigy's Lego tower, but Vertical Theatre might be the unlikely answer to theatre-lovers' prayers. It's been designed by architects Stufish to have a capacity that dwarfs that of existing players, using stacked levels of boxes to seat between 1,200 and 2,400 people. It's got an elaborate system of multiple entrances to reduce bottleneck. And it can be assembled in just a week, enabling it to tour theatre shows up and down the country this summer.
The immersive theatre/cinema crossover crew is coming to a Walthamstow park this summer with a mega-event inspired by Dirty Dancing. Or are they? Residents are kicking off about the potential for noise, crowds, and the loss of much-needed outdoor green space for kids to play in. There will probably be more conflicts like this to come, as ambitious theatre producers butt up against local residents who need their local outdoor spaces more than ever before.
Pop-up outdoor festivals
London's got an endless number of theatre folk, but a pretty limited supply of outdoor spaces. So there are likely to be more festivals popping up than ever, offering an exciting array of artists a literal moment in the sun. Iris Theatre's Outdoor Summer Festival will fill the grounds of Covent Garden's Actor's Church with works by early-career theatremakers. East London-based company Certain Blacks are planning a fest in Newham. And Greenwich & Docklands International Festival is back, providing a shining example of how streets, squares and even doorsteps can be converted into temporary venues.
These new ventures are likely the first of many. Across the UK, theatre companies are scouting out local parks, sweet-talking local councils and praying for a dry summer. But even bad weather doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. A winter of frosty walks in the park has given London's residents the weather-proof hides of Arctic seals. After way too much time indoors and not nearly enough theatre, no one's gonna rain on this parade.
Until next week, Stage Savvy
ASK LYN: Do you get many performers snapping back to reviews?
"I’m always happy to engage with anyone who thinks that I’ve given their work a rough ride. The more negative the review, the greater the responsibility to explain why you have written what you did."
Quotes of the Week
“There’s no escape. There’s no time apart, there’s no breather. There’s no one to complain to about my co-star.”
-Jason O'Connell, quoted in a New York Times piece about what it's like to star in a Zoom play along with your partner
"Watching Figs in Wigs dance was like listening to an alien language, a semaphore of hops and hand gestures"
- Andy Field, writing about uncanny dance troupe Figs in Wigs in The Guardian
BE at Home Festival (Online 12-28 Feb)
Lyn Gardner reckons that this European theatre festival is "more important than ever" post-Brexit.
The Color Purple (Online 16 Feb - 7 Mar)
Lyn Gardner recommends Leicester Curve's online concert version of this emotive musical.
OPENING THIS WEEK
The House of Cenci (Online 15 Feb - 21 Mar)
Uncover a historical tragedy in this ambitious online adventure, which unfolds its tale through puzzles and acted scenes.
Hymn (Online 17-20 Feb)
Lolita Chakrabarti’s searching, soulful new online play for Almeida Theatre asks what it takes to be a good father.
Come From Away (Opening 19 Jun, tickets from £24)
Set in the aftermath of another world crisis, this show is just what we need when theatres reopen.
Sister Act (Opening 20 Jul, tickets from £62)
Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Saunders star in this joyful, joyful musical about singing nuns.
& Juliet (Opening 28 May, tickets from £25)
This fab musical is packed full of super-catchy '90s hits and 21st century-style girl power.
To Kill A Mockingbird (Opening 27 May, tickets from £24)
Rhys Ifans plays the iconic role of Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of the classic novel
Cover Image from Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.