Summer theatre: out with it

Published May 9, 2011

The sun, you may have noticed, has made a few appearances over the Great British Isles of late. Does this bode well for London’s annual outdoor theatre season? Let’s hope so, because although us Brits have a certain flair for brandishing a pac-a-mac and a blanket and sitting resolutely in our seats when the rain starts to fall or the temperature plummets, there can’t be one among us who wouldn’t rather swap the mac for flip-flops and the warming contents of a thermos for a cool glass of Pimms.

So, in the hope that the Met Office’s elusive barbecue summer is just round the corner, Caroline Bishop takes a look at this year’s al fresco theatre options in and around the capital. And if it rains? You know what to do.

Shakespeare’s Globe / Now until 2 October

The season at the Globe has already kicked off in epic style, with a complete reading of the King James Bible, followed by its first full production, John Dove’s take on All’s Well That Ends Well. Treats in store over the course of the season include the return of Olivier-winning British actress Eve Best to these shores as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, a retelling of Marlowe’s devilish Doctor Faustus and the Globe’s version of the medieval mystery plays.

Regent’s Park Open Air theatre / 19 May-10 September

Under the leadership of Timothy Sheader the Open Air theatre in Regent’s Park has tweaked its historically Shakespeare-heavy programming in favour of Olivier-winning musicals and revivals of classics which are a perfect fit for the atmospheric surroundings. Following last year’s The Crucible, the venue presents another eerie classic, Lord Of The Flies, which is sure to make ample use of the woody setting, while John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera promises an evening of bawdy humour. After winning successive Olivier Awards for Hello, Dolly! and Into The Woods, the venue will be hoping for a hat trick with Crazy For You, once again directed by Sheader and choreographed by Stephen Mear. The only Shakespeare on the bill is Pericles, in a new version designed to enthral young audiences.

Watch This Space / 1 July-11 September

The National Theatre’s annual outdoor extravaganza is now a fixture of the South Bank in the summer months, when you’d be as likely to come across a troupe of Italian jugglers as a mass jive dance session or a village fête. Details of this year’s line-up are yet to be announced, but if previous years are to go by the festival promises a mix of international theatre, circus, dance and oddities, most of which are free to watch, along with a programme of workshops, masterclasses and dance sessions, held in the space outside the National Theatre.

The Scoop / 4 August-4 September

It’s not every day you get to take your children to see professional theatre for free in a space as lovely as the open air amphitheatre at More London Riverside. Theatre company Steam Industry and its regular director Phil Willmott have been staging shows there for years, and this summer’s diverse offerings are aiming to keep standards high. Willmott’s musical adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days is the family show of the season, a rollicking romp across the globe with Phileas Fogg and his hapless servant. For older audiences, theatre’s enfant terrible Mark Ravenhill has written a new version of Bertolt Brecht’s Nazi Germany-set drama The Mother. With both shows staged in the same evening, you can pick whichever takes your fancy or stay and watch both.

The Actors’ Church / 2 July-5 August

Theatre can be found in every nook and cranny of London these days. But it is particularly appropriate that the Actors’ Church – St Paul’s in Covent Garden – should have its own theatre company. Iris Theatre stages promenade productions in the church gardens, making full use of this grassy idyll in the heart of Theatreland. Previous shows have included The Wind In The Willows, Romeo And Juliet and Dido And Aeneas, while this year the company applies the appropriately leafy surroundings to Shakespeare’s tale of magic in the woods, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. www.iristheatre.com

Accomplice / Now playing

Accomplice isn’t new to London, but thanks to the mystery surrounding the show – studiously maintained by those who participate – it remains under the radar. To an extent that’s as it should be, however this piece of interactive theatre deserves to be experienced by many. Part game-show, part promenade performance, part mystery tour, Accomplice sends its participants off on a journey round the streets of South London as they attempt to solve a crime with the help of some extremely idiosyncratic characters. After originating in New York, the show has been running in London – courtesy of the Menier Chocolate Factory – since last autumn and will continue enticing us into its shady world throughout the summer.

Greenwich And Docklands International Festival / 24 June-2 July

Making full use of London’s lifeline, the river Thames, this eclectic festival presents an annual programme of street art, surreal performances and watery spectacle from British and international artists in various locations around Greenwich and Docklands. Full details of this year’s event are still being finalised, but we have already been promised the latest show by disabled theatre company Graeae, the return of Compagnie Off’s 2003 promenade production Les Girafes and a new show by Wired Aerial Theatre, directed by the man behind the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony. www.festival.org

CB