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Summer’s best outdoor theatre

From Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens and beyond, there's an al-fresco production for everyone this season.

I’m writing a post on outdoor theatre, so expect the current spell of sunny weather to stop any minute now. Watching thesps al fresco in gorgeous verdant surroundings is a truly magical way to pass a balmy summer evening, so here’s our curated list of the best imminent productions, both local and London. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Maybe not right now, but tomorrow’s forecast looks good…

 

Longborough Festival Opera, Moreton-in-Marsh

Love opera? Then you’ll be all about this summer festival which this year has its usual line-up of high-brow offerings. Still left to enjoy are Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (13 to 24 July) and Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea (28 July to 2 August). Longborough grounds are glorious, so dress up in your glad rags, pack a picnic or pre-order a hamper or, why the hell not, just dine in The Coach House Restaurant (see the menu here, £45 per person for a three-course meal) or Valley Buffet (£35 per person), and enjoy the show. Glyndebourne, eat your heart out.

 

Cowley Manor, near Cheltenham

actors man woman top hat bonnet jane austen emma

As if you needed another excuse to go to Cowley Manor, now along with the spa, the restaurant, the rooms, the gardens, the al-fresco cinema, there’s summer thespian drama to enjoy in the Grade II-listed gardens. First up on Wednesday 18 July is Jane Austen’s Emma adapted by Jenny Wren Productions which gives an entertaining insight into the reality of dating in the 19th century. (I wonder what Austen would have made of Love Island – that would have made a novel and a half!) Then the next Wednesday to mark in your diary is 22 August when IKP’s energetic production of The Three Musketeers rides into the country house hotel’s environs.

 

Lydiard House & Park, Swindon

lake trees grass

There’s a lot on offer at Lydiard House & Park too – not least a Palladian house to drool over and 260 acres of parkland. But for my money, I’m thinking throw down a picnic blanket and enjoy the two thespy, al-fresco offerings on offer this summer. The first, on Friday 20 July, is Oscar Wilde’s foppishly brilliant comedy The Importance of Being Earnest courtesy of Immersion Theatre. Then on Friday 24 August, the same theatre company dives into Neverland with a fab musical rendition of Peter Pan.

 

Hamptworth LodgeLandford

Voyage to Spain to see Don Quixote, delivered with gusto by the Maskers Theatre Company, 18-28 July. This National Theatre adaptation provides moments of hilarity, fast-moving action, romance and pathos – a memorable piece of theatre ideal for Hamptworth’s beautiful outdoor surroundings.

 

The Tuckwell Amphitheatre, Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham

amphitheatre crowd performance

Another great summer line-up at this magical amphitheatre tucked away in the woods of Dean close. Take your pick from Much Ado About Nothing on Friday 20 July, Pride and Prejudice on Tuesday 24 July and A Woman of No Importance on Thursday 26 July.

 

Dyrham Park, Dyrham

grand country house rolling hills

The Chamberlain’s Men are performing Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the 17th-century country estate stunner on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 August. Arrive early I reckon to have a snoop round what must be one of the National Trust’s most glorious properties in Gloucestershire. Then sit back and enjoy a fast-paced production of the bard’s supernatural masterpiece.

 

Marlborough College Summer School, Marlborough

On Tues 17 July, Dr John Dolittle of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh starts out as a human doctor. But once he is taught by his wise old parrot Polynesia how to talk to animals, he becomes the most celebrated veterinary doctor in England. Word of his skills spreads, and animals across the world send messages asking for his help. So he buys a leaky old ship and, together with his trusty pet-crew of Jip the dog, Chee-Chee the monkey, Dab-Dab the Duck and permanently hungry Gub-Gub the pig, sets forth on a mission to heal illness, right wrongs and gain a greater understanding of the animal kingdom. A funny, much-loved and exciting adventure, performed by those legends of open air theatre, Illyria.

 

Lacock Abbey, Chippenham

Another outing for Illyria’s Dr Doolittle, this time in the magical surroundings of Lacock’s beautiful South Lawn, on Fri 27 July.

Following this, the wonderful Chapterhouse take over with their version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on 30 August.

 

Iford Arts, Iford Manor, nr Bradford on Avon

The internationally renowned Iford Arts Festival (opera, picnic proms and classical cloister concerts) stages Puccini’s Madame Butterfly this summer. This all-time favourite – a poignant mixture of warm, luxuriant melody together with a depiction of a young girl abused, deceived and deserted – will be conducted by Tom Blunt, making his Iford debut, 21 July – 4 August.

 

Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham

A funny, much-loved and exciting adventure with Dr Doolittle (Fri 24 August) – outdoor theatre at its finest, created by the same Illyria team who brought you an entire menagerie of animal puppets in DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD and a life-size T-Rex in THE LOST WORLD.

 

The Elizabethan Playhouse, Manor Farm, Corsley

Illyria rock into Corsley with a double bill, kicking off with The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sat 4 August) – the original and greatest literary detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes, and his assistant Doctor Watson, tackle the most baffling case of their careers in this faithful, cheeky but chilling adaptation. This is followed by The Merchant of Venice (Sun 16 August) when Shakespeare’s great courtroom drama is by turns gripping, funny, romantic and thought-provoking. International award-winning Illyria promise a production to keep you on the edge of your seat.

 

Rain or Shine, various venues 

November 1918. The Great War has come to end and the men of the British military forces are returning home. Don Pedro and his comrades are coming at last to Messina (a little known village on the edge of the Cotswolds!) where they are met by friends old and new. Featuring the very best of the Bard’s wit and wisdom, the fiery Beatrice gives Benedick, the bachelor, a battle of words to remember, and true love is at its sweetest as Claudio falls for his Hero.
Dates throughout July and August at venues across Glos and Wilts.

 

Earth Trust, Abingdon

The HandleBards are the world’s first cycling theatre company. Before touring their “seriously silly” production of Romeo and Juliet around the world, they pedalled it 1500 miles around the UK by bicycle, with all the necessary set, props and costume in tow. Now, the show is back by popular demand – and, in usual HandleBards style, you can expect riotous amounts of energy, a fair old whack of chaos, and a great deal of laughter. Join the HandleBards’ all-female troupe at Earth Trust in Oxfordshire for Romeo and Juliet as you’ve never seen it before. And what’s the play about? Well – Romeo and Juliet fall in love, despite the fact that both their families hate each other. Hilarity ensues… Well, sort of.

 

Painswick Rococo Gardens, Stroud

There’s another bite of the cherry to see IKP’s rollicking adaptation of The Three Musketeers as D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis ride over from Cowley Manor to Painswick’s charming Rococo Gardens on Sunday 26 and Monday 27 August. Sword fighting and swashbuckling guaranteed.

 

Creation Theatre, Oxford

The quirky Oxford theatre company has two cracking outdoor shows this summer. Brave New World (to 11 August) comes from the creative team behind last year’s sell-out 1984 – a brand-new adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, staged in Westgate Oxford.… Alternatively, join intrepid child adventurers, rival pirate gangs and unsinkable friendship in their summer family production of Swallows and Amazons (9 July – 10 August), made even more special by the setting of Oxford’s beautiful University Parks.

 

Oxford Castle QuarterOxford, now until 11 Aug

Their eight week Shakespeare Festival kicks off with two hours of back-to-back abridged (me likey) Othello and Much Ado About Nothing from BMH Productions (so one hour of each, until 30 June). Followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Tomahawk Theatre) from 2 July to 28 July and concluding with Romeo and Juliet (Siege Theatre) from 30 July to 11 Aug. Fabulous setting in the old castle yard, bring a picnic or pre-order with your tickets from £16 for the performance and £8.95 for a standard picnic.

 

Waterperry Gardens amphitheatre, Waterperry, Oxon

Chaperhouse Theatre takes us down the rabbit hole again with its Alice in Wonderland on July 27 in the Waterperry’s bijou amphitheatre. Bring your own picnic or you can pre-order from the Tea Shop. Tickets  £11 – £45.99

Boxtree Productions’ take on Treasure Island on Sat 4 Aug includes original music and inventive staging to bring this classic to life. Tickets £10 – £14.50.

The 3 Musketeers by IKP on Sat 11 Aug promises swashbuckling action and fast paced wit in this family friendly performance. Tickets £8-£10

 

Open Air Theatre, Regents Park, London

The most famous of them all, Regent’s Park’s theatre is set within beautifully landscaped grounds where you can picnic on the lawns, enjoy food from the barbecue, café or covered dining and prop up the West End’s longest bar. The season kicks off with The Turn of the Screw (22 to 30 June), followed by As You Like It (6 – 28 July) and concluding with The Little Shop of Horrors (3 Aug to 15 Sept) and Dinosaur World Live (14 Aug to 9 Sept). Prices £25 – £55 apart from dinosaurs tickets which are £16.50. Pretty good value for top notch theatre.

 

Have we missed anything amazing off the list? Let us know in the comment box below!

Additional reporting: Amy Ballantyne

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