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Best Places to See Outdoor Theatre in London this Summer

21 June 2016 | Becca Johnson

Summertime is the perfect excuse to spend as much time outdoors as possible. But rather than perching on an overcrowded pavement masquerading as a ‘pub garden’, why not catch some rays whilst enjoying some culture? London has an incredible range of outdoor theatre spaces, both purpose built and pop-up. We’ve picked our favourites.

The Big Ones

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: Many Londoners wouldn’t even realise this atmospheric theatre is hidden in the inner circle of Regent’s Park. In fact, it’s been putting on summer performances since 1932! The stage is surrounded by parkland and completely open-air, so expect each season to make the most of the natural backdrop. This year is no exception, with the promise of the Battle of Agincourt in Henry V, the crucifixion in Jesus Christ Superstar and plenty of pastoral romance in Pride and Prejudice. Pick a matinee performance to make the most of the sunshine, or an evening for the chance to see the sun set during the show (we recommend the latter). British weather is a tad unpredictable, so it’s best to come prepared as performances are rarely cancelled except in cases of very heavy rain.

 

Shakespeare’s Globe: No one did outdoor theatre quite like the Elizabethans, and seeing Shakespeare at the Globe should be on everyone’s bucket list. This summer’s season sees a mix of classics and new performances, with a radical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Helena has been transformed into Helenus and is played by a man), an atmospheric Macbeth, a feminist Taming of the Shrew, and a touching new family show by beloved author Michael Morpurgo.  There are a host of performance times to suit your mood, including several midnight showings for night owls. The braver (and more budget conscious) should go for the groundling standing tickets in the yard, where the view is the best and the tickets a steal at just £5.

 

Opera Holland Park: Holland Park is one of the most beautiful green spaces in London, so why not add an evening at the Opera to a day spent wandering around the gardens. It also has the additional bonus of the stage and auditorium being under cover, allowing you to both appreciate the surroundings and stay dry in wetter weather. This season gives you the chance to see classics such as La Boheme and Die Fledermaus, as well as family friendly performances of the magical Alice in Wonderland. Tickets start from just £17, so if you’ve never seen opera before, it’s the perfect opportunity to give it a go.
 


Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Lord of the Flies, Photo © David Jensen
 

Summer Festivals

LIFT: The annual LIFT festival (that’s the London International Festival of Theatre) has already kicked off, but there are still a host of performances taking place over the next few weeks, many of which are making the most of some of London’s most unique spaces. There’s a chance to see a very spooky-looking performance of Circa’s Depart featuring circus artists, choral singers and musicians, which will lead you on a torch lit tour through Tower Hamlets Cemetery. Or for a more serene daytime experience, head instead to Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham to see a durational performance inspired by a 500-year-old oak tree. Best of all, many performances are free, so head to the LIFT website to see what’s available.

 

Greenwich and Docklands International festival: Another festival with a fantastic mix of unique performances, this year’s event runs from 24th June to 2nd July and will feature some of the most beautiful venues around Greenwich and East London.  There’s the chance to see digital spectacle at The Queen’s House, build a cardboard structure at Olympic Park, experience dance in Canary Wharf and see street theatre featuring fire, puppetry and music in Bethnal Green Gardens. There are many more unique performances taking place over the 9 days, with plenty of free and low cost options.

 

London Bridge City Summer Festival: The iconic riverside location of London Bridge City is playing host to the largest performance festival this summer, running from 1st June- 31st October and with every performance being offered absolutely free. It’s worth attending just to see the Scoop, a sunken amphitheatre with views of Tower Bridge and with room to seat 1,000 people. Performance highlights include music, swing and salsa dance, street performers, an outdoor cinema and the capital’s biggest mass karaoke event!
 


Lord Chamberlain's Men - Twelfth Night
 

Days Out

London Wetland Centre: Fancy a day in the great outdoors, seeing all manner of British Wildlife, all within the easy reach of London zone 2? London Wetlands Centre not only provides all this, but they’re also using their beautiful scenery as a backdrop for a promenade performance of Robin Hood this June. The production was written especially for the centre, so you can expect to join Robin Hood, Maid Marian and the Sheriff of Nottingham in a completely immersive adventure.

 

Fulham Palace: The picturesque Fulham Palace is an ideal historic day out for those based in West London, and there’s also the chance to see outdoor performances in the Walled Garden this summer. Choose either Roald Dahl’s family classic Danny the Champion of the World in July or A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August, and make sure to explore the beautiful gardens whilst you’re there.

 

The Handlebards: The Handlebards have found a rather novel way of performing outdoor Shakespeare. They travel all over the country on bikes, with set, props and costumes carried with them. Performing in two different four-member troupes (‘the boys’ and ‘the girls’) they specialise in energetic and charmingly chaotic versions of Shakespeare’s classics. It’s the perfect way to get your fix of environmentally sustainable Shakespeare, and it helps that they perform in some pretty stunning venues too. This summer sees the girls play in the Museum of The Order of St John, Strawberry Hill House and the Geffrye Museum and the boys head to Chelsea Physic Garden and the Rookery in Streatham.

 

The Lord Chamberlains Men: Another open-air Shakespeare specialist, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men are an all male company who perform in some of the most beautiful and historically significant venues around the UK. This summer takes them to London venues such as St Anne’s Churchyard, Morden Hall Park and Ham House and Garden. The name of the company is taken from Shakespeare’s original troupe of travelling players, so the 400th anniversary year is the perfect time to see them interpret the plays as the bard originally intended.   

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