Summer just wouldn’t be summer for the Official London Theatre team without a trip to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. No other venue in London quite brings with it the same level of magic, romance and collective audience spirit as you’ll experience when you enter its ethereal world.
As Timothy Sheader prepares to open his ninth season as Artistic Director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – which will cover everything from historical Shakespeare to family puppetry adventure – he shared with us his top ten highlights from the season ahead, and from gender-swapping royals to Tom Cruise’s face beamed six foot tall, it’s anything but predictable…
1. Opening our gates on our first performance of the season.
This is always an amazing feeling. It is what we have been working towards since we closed the previous season, and to see audiences return to us on that very first day is really satisfying.
2. Bringing our local community into the heart of Running Wild.
The involvement of young people in Chichester’s production of Running Wild last year was key to its success. In developing the play for this, its professional debut, we have therefore reached out for the first time to our local community to find young people – many of whom have had no previous experience of theatre – to create a Young People’s Ensemble to complement our professional actors and puppeteers.
3. Telling a contemporary story.
Michael Morpurgo is arguably one of our most popular writers, and War Horse has brought him international recognition. Set at the time of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Running Wild is a story of our time. The environmental issues which are challenged – that of the illegal trade in wildlife and the loss of habitat through the unsustainable expansion of palm oil production – as well as the human themes of love, loss, loyalty and of living for the moment, make it absolutely relevant to today’s audiences.
4. Michelle Terry as Henry V.
Whenever you hear a familiar story told in a different way, there’s a new engagement with it; you hear the lines afresh, you rediscover it. With a wealth of Shakespearean credentials, choosing Michelle to play Henry doesn’t feel like a controversial decision, but one which will bring a new dimension to Henry. From young King to a great leader, it will be fascinating to see this metamorphosis in Michelle’s performance.
5. Robert Hastie.
I am delighted that Robert Hastie, an Associate Director of the Donmar Warehouse, is directing Henry V. With the opening coinciding with the EU Referendum, this is the perfect time to stage a play which looks at our relationship with our European neighbours, and with Robert now announced as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, it’s in expert hands.
6. Our first musical by Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber.
And indeed, our first ‘rock’ musical. The most successful writers of British musicals, their Open Air Theatre debut feels somewhat overdue, so it is exciting to be creating a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar here. And the credentials of my creative team – most of whom I have not worked with before – are impressive. Drew McOnie, one of the hottest choreographers around, and Tom Deering as Musical Director have both had their work on In The Heights acknowledged, with Drew winning the Olivier Award for Choreography. And designer Tom Scutt has just received a Tony Award nomination for King Charles III.
7. The Crucifixion.
Outdoors, audiences will have a heightened emotional connection to Jesus Christ Superstar and I can’t wait to see their reaction to this moment, in both the blistering heat of a matinee and the chill of a late summer evening.
8. The return of Pride And Prejudice.
It is wonderful to bring back our 2013 sell-out production of Pride And Prejudice. In Simon Reade’s adaptation, director Deborah Bruce pitched the humour and the romance perfectly, and I’m proud that this will be the next play to represent our work as it tours the UK following its run here.
9. Our programme of Sunday Events.
This year The Invisible Dot is presenting an evening of comedy, including Beardyman and Sara Pascoe, and the Comedy Store Players return with a line-up including Marcus Brigstocke and Josie Lawrence. Also, The Luna Cinema is presenting two screenings – Jurassic Park and a 30th anniversary screening of Top Gun. Hosting these events is a great way of introducing new audiences to our venue, and the atmosphere is always amazing. We’ll have more Sunday night events to announce soon too.
10. Giving our audiences an unforgettable experience.
We strive to deliver world class theatre on stage, but also a front of house experience to match. Watching theatregoers of all ages, and in all types of groups – families, friends, work colleagues – enjoying our venue is very satisfying. The waft of the barbecue across the picnic lawn before the show, the hubbub in the bar at the interval as people talk about the show, there is nothing quite like it. But I would say that, wouldn’t I!