Open to all  

With, hopefully, warmer evenings set to continue though the coming months, Susan Elkin guides us through some of the open air theatre highlights available this summer.

Open air theatre is one of those gloriously British triumphs of hopes over experience. At its best a night at Regents Park or in the grounds of a stately home watching, say, Much Ado about Nothing or The Rivals, is balmy and beautiful. Alas, more often than not, it’s cold and damp and we stalwarts sit there shivering in blankets and sou’westers while the poor cast tries not to slip on the “dank and dirty ground” and to make itself heard over the howling wind. Maybe the uncertainty is part of the pleasure.

It is, moreover, one of the best introductions to theatre for children first, because you might be lucky and get a warm congenial evening and second because every outdoor performance is “relaxed” by definition. When I saw Illyria Theatre’s enjoyable Pride and Prejudice last month at Coolings Nurseries in Bromley, one mother had put her very young children flat on air beds under blankets on the grass at the front. Of course, they went to sleep and would probably have been peaceful there all night, had the play not come to an end. That Pride and Prejudice is touring nationwide this summer along with the same company’s The Mikado, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Comedy of Errors and The Lost World (

Derby based Oddsocks is another touring company which produces outstanding open air, all age entertainment suitable for both school parties and families. I giggled my way through their irreverent Julius Caesar (the life size puppet and the medieval theatre wagon were particular high spots) in a park in Ilford a while back. This year they are taking Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth all over the country with bookings as far apart as Billingham in Northants and Tiverton in Devon. (

Or what about Changeling Theatre whose Hamlet is playing in dozens of venues, mostly Kent, Sussex and south London this summer? You can catch it at, for example, Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone, Belmont near Faversham or at Dover Castle where, I hope, they’ll be making good use of some real battlements for the ghost. (

Chapterhouse Theatre was founded in 1999 with the aim of touring Shakespeare “under the stars”. The company has grown and developed a lot in its first 18 years. Today it presents not only Shakespeare but classic literature in general. Like Illyria, Chapterhouse has a version of Pride and Prejudice touring this season as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Great Expectations and The Wind in the Willows. Its tour list shows that its whizzes about Britain and Ireland from Ayr to Dublin, Dorset to Lincolnshire and dozens more places. (

Then of course there are fixed open air theatre venues – as opposed to the sort of pop up playing spaces used by touring companies in places as various as garden centres, school playing fields, golf courses, public parks and formal gardens along with grand houses, castles and more. The Minack in Cornwall is a prestigious one. So is the Globe in London, famous for its authentically uncomfortable seating as well as, probably the most exciting buzz you’ll find in a theatre anywhere. Try Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night there this summer. (

Scarborough Open Air Theatre in North Yorkshire does it differently. Probably the largest open air theatre built since the Greeks and the Romans, it opened in 1932 and closed in the nineteen eighties when seaside holidays fell out of fashion. After years of campaigning, fundraising and restoration it was re-opened by the Queen in 2010. It now specialises in big one-night acts. Coming up this summer, for example, are Michael Ball and Alfie Boe on 28 June and Cliff Richard on 29 June. (

And so to what it probably the best known al fresco theatre of all. Groups of school students, families and many more have been enjoying Shakespeare in Regents Park since the 1930s ( The stage is encircled by trees, the seating is naturally sheltered from the wind (although you can still get jolly wet if it rains) and the acoustics are perfect. And of course the programming has moved on over the years, particularly since Timothy Sheader took over as artistic director in 2007. In recent years the company has seen its work transfer into the West End and tour across the UK. The 2014 production of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Sheader himself, was a notable success, for example, and last year’s Running Wild (which began life at Chichester) is currently touring. This summer’s delights include: On the Town, Dickens Uncovered, a version of Oliver Twist for young audiences and a revival of last year’s highly acclaimed Jesus Christ Superstar.

Lots to enjoy then. Just don’t forget to take your warm socks, blanket, extra jumpers and waterproofs as well as your picnic.