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Your Guide to London’s Open-Air Theatre in 2019

7 May 2019 | Will Rathbone

It’s time to dig out the picnic blanket, as we take a look at the wealth of open-air theatre experiences on offer throughout London this summer.

We’ll start with the obvious - Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. On a clear evening, as the sky slowly shifts from that warm, dusky blue to a deep black while the stage lights rise with pinpoint synchronicity, nothing else quite matches Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s beautiful amphitheatre for summer atmosphere. 2019’s season includes Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s poetic ode to human life, Hansel and Gretel, a collaboration with the ENO, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Evita directed by Jamie Lloyd. It’s a wonderfully varied program, with something to suit all tastes, and it's impossible to overstate how beautiful the theatre is.
 
Regent's Park open air theatre London
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre © TomJAnderson

On the opposite end of the scale, Battersea Arts Centre’s outdoor courtyard space is a small but perfectly formed performance area in the heart of the building, and their summer season features comedy, gigs and spoken-word performances. The Stand-up Under The Stars programme includes sets from Tim Key, Sara Barron and Phil Wang amongst a whole host of top names. It’s a wonderfully informal setting, and the infectious community vibes always make BAC worth a visit. 
 
Does it get more British than watching Shakespeare al-fresco on a balmy summer’s evening? Shakespeare in the Squares are taking A Midsummer Night’s Dream on a tour of some of London’s most picturesque gardens for one night only - with each performance tailored to suit the individual space. Over in Covent GardenIris Theatre’s summer season sees productions of Hamlet and The Hunchback of Notre Dame taking place in the garden of St Paul’s Church. Two tales of rebellious populations complete with whispers of mutiny amongst the ruling party. Where on Earth did they get that idea from..?
 
GDIF festival open air London
Greenwich and Docklands International Festival © Garry Knight

One of the most consistently entertaining festivals in the theatrical calendar is also a hotbed of al-fresco performance. The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival takes place over three weeks between 21 June and 6 July, and this year’s line-up includes a circus-fused Italian rendition of Moby Dick, an exhibition of Chinese pole artistry in Stick-Stok and the festival-within-a-festival that brings together street performers from across the globe, the Greenwich Fair. It’s also worth attending the Opening Night and Closing Ceremony, which feature glorious parades and performers galore. 
 
Finally, the National Theatre’s River Stage takes place over five weekends from 5 July to 4 August, with each weekend curated by a different organisation showcasing their work. East London’s drag sensation The Glory open the season with a three-day Pride Party, before Shubbak celebrate the finest in Arab culture. London was recently named the world’s first National Park City, and the Mayor of London is marking the occasion by hosting a weekend of beautifully green events. Physical theatre specialists Frantic Assembly host the penultimate weekend before the National Theatre themselves close the festival. The stage sits outside the National’s Understudy Bar - a highlight of the Southbank in itself - and it’s an ideal place to pitch up and enjoy a cool drink whilst taking in the free performances.
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