Summer stock: the best of this season’s open-air theatre in London

For lovers of the stage, summer really is the time of the year to visit the UK capital. Why? Because it’s the season when the sun and dramatic art gloriously come together in London in the form of open-air theatre – an out-of-doors attraction that’s absolutely thriving throughout the city today. Well, so long as the sun has his hat on and the rain-clouds aren’t gathering overhead, of course. Here are this summer’s finest open-air theatre offerings in the capital…

london summer

Extravaganza Macabre

(Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill SW11 5TN/ until 29th July)

Expect the Little Bulb theatre company, back for another summer run here, to thoroughly prove this venue’s courtyard is the absolutely perfect performance space for ‘penny dreadful’-like Victorian melodrama. Made up of merely a thesp trio, the company nonetheless bring to life a whole troupe of players of yesteryear that – narratively speaking – strive to conjure up Dickensian-esque characters and grotesques; everyone from blighted brides to heroic street urchins to Darcy-like gentlemen with eerily dark pasts. A devilish, delicious delight.

Macbeth

(St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, Bedford Street WC2E 9ED /8th-29th July)

Known to many fans of the West End stage as London’s ‘Theatre Church’ (thanks to its many memorials to sadly passed great actors of yore), this is a location rarely thought of as a performance space, yet its atmospheric churchyard transforms into a more than effective one, especially when it comes to the Iris Theatre company’s bold, florid and wildly wonderful interpretation of the blood-spattered tragedy that’s the ‘Scottish play’. And, located right in the heart of the West End, this is a venue just waiting to be visited should you be staying at one of the many London Paddington hotels – the Park Grand Paddington hotel London, for instance.

A Tale of Two Cities/ Oliver Twist

(Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1 4NR; 17th July-5th August/ runs until 5th August)

Notoriously, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens’ timeless novel set during the enormous upheaval of the French Revolution opens with the legend ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times’, yet to pop along to Regent’s Park’s quite exquisite outdoors theatre (surrounded, as it is, with glorious green foliage) for this fine pair of Dickens adaptions you may come to conclusion that now’s the best of times alone. Especially as both versions offer new spins on two of English literature’s best known mainstays. The first is smartly set in the politically and socially divided setting of today, while the second presents one of the all-time great novelist’s bleaker works for a firmly family-friendly audience – and doing so without an ‘Oliver!’-esque oompah show tune in sight.

Twelfth Night/ Much Ado About Nothing

(Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk SE1 9DT; runs until 5th August/ 14th July-15th October)

For many, when they hear the name William Shakespeare, their mind takes them back to school and struggling through Tudor and Jacobean dramatic verse in, usually, heavy historically-resonant tragedies. Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth (see above) are perhaps among the first efforts from the Bard that spring to mind for most of us. But, equally, Stratford-upon-Avon’s genius dramatist (who’s easily better than 95% of those who came before him and have come after him) also pounded out many a marvellously bawdy, romance-fuelled, cross-dressing-filled, farce-funny comedy – and among the very best of them are this pair that make up the imperious Globe’s summer season.

The final play to be directed by the current, controversial artistic director Emma Rice, Twelfth Night is an uproarious colourful production set aboard a ship that’s full of song and dance, while a Latin flavour pervades Matthew Dunster’s reimaging of Much Ado About Nothing, which relocates the action to early 20th Century, revolutionary Mexico (of all places!) for the quip-heavy warring between eternally loveable lovers Benedict and Beatrice.

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