London’s Open Air Theatre

As the city heats up and the mercury creeps upwards, one of the last places you want to be is trapped inside a stuffy theatre, especially since half the venues in the West End are air-con free and have the capacity to turn into velvet curtained saunas on even moderately warm days.

In August one wants fresh air and chilled wine and to not to have to worry about one’s eye make up melting before the interval.
Fortunately the capital is not short of al fresco theatre. The South Bank is always a good bet on a hot day. With its skaters and sand artists and second hand booksellers, the stretch of pavement by the river has atmosphere in abundance.

This year in addition to its event-packed (and free of charge) Watch This Space festival (which takes place on the ‘lawn’ outside the theatre’s main entrance), the National Theatre has invited two international companies to perform in a newly adapted site, Square2, located outside the stage door. Throughout August two productions will be staged in this new space. The first of these is Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man? by the Polish company Teatr Biuro Podrzy. An award winning production, it drew rave reviews at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and became something of a sleeper hit. The production is essentially street theatre; tickets are 10 and audience members stay standing.

Cushions are provided for the other production in the run The Threepenny Ring Cycle, by French company Les Grooms. An energetic, inventive take on Wagner’s monumental opera cycle, the story of Siegfried, Brnnhilde and the Valkyries has been reworked for brass band, percussion and three singers. In the process sixteen hours of music has been reduced to just 79 minutes. Again tickets are 10.

Saunter away from the National, up past the Tate Modern with its street-art bedecked walls, and you reach the ever reliable Globe Theatre. Little compares to that glorious moment when the dipping sun glows gold over the theatre’s thatched roof. It elevates even the more pedestrian productions. This year’s line up is one of their stronger ones, and includes The Merry Wives of Windsor, King Lear and a jolly staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Timon of Athens opens later in August, but for something a little different we recommend Che Walker’s The Frontline, a raucous, warm new play set in modern day Camden. As ever 5 buys you a standing ‘groundling’ ticket in the yard. The Globe also has two touring productions travelling the country this year: A Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet playing in various attractive open air settings.

North of the river and Regent Park’s idyllic Open Air Theatre is staging Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet (again) alongside a reworked Midsummer Night’s Dream designed to introduce young children to Shakespeare. Musicals in such a space are always enjoyable and later this summer the venue will be staging Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi with a cast including Topol and Millicent Martin. The Oxford Shakespeare company will be staging a version of Twelfth Night, set in a British seaside resort, in Kensington Palace Gardens before taking it to Hampton Court Palace.

Back in the grubby heart of the city, the Scoop at More London, the sunken amphitheatre outside the GLA building is also holding its annual summer season of free film, theatre and music. This has become a regular event. As in previous years the theatre part of the festival is hosted by Phil Wilmott’s The Steam Industry, there is no need to book. People are encouraged to just stroll along take a perch for their sometimes broad but usually entertaining productions. This year they are staging Lorca’s Blood Wedding and, for family crowds, Petite Rouge, a version of Little Red Riding Hood set to Cajun-style music.

So if the thought of two hours sweltering in the dark becomes too much to bear in the summer months, you won’t be short of open air alternatives.

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