Away from the hustle and bustle of London’s Marylebone Road lies the amazing outdoor theatre of Regent’s Park. Visit in the summertime to watch some outstanding performances – and don’t be surprised when your surroundings become part of the action. Whether you find yourself enveloped by a different culture or time period, or even among the wreckage of a plane crash, you are sure to be mesmerised by the experience.
Regent’s Park — named after Prince Regent during the early 19th century — has a huge expanse of 166 hectares. Inside is a stunning garden named after Queen Mary which has been open to the public since the 1930s. Three years after the park opened, the Open Air Theatre was quickly installed in an emergency to fill the loss felt after the collapse of the New Theatre in St. Martins Lane, to please the demands of theatre lovers. It has remained in the grounds ever since, providing visitors with spectacular, magical moments not to be missed.
Today, some 83 years later, the Open Air Theatre represents a world within a world. It embraces a hidden culture of theatre lovers as London’s most animated landmark, bringing a staggering 140,000 people together from all over the world in the summer season. The auditorium is very popular with schools, who bring students to watch popular plays such as The Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V among others. This allows modern culture an insight into what live outdoor Shakespearian performances may have been like.
However the Open Air Theatre’s plays are not all set in the past. In fact, the theatre company often manages to juxtapose past and present in one show. Hugely powerful performances have included famous faces of modern times such as Judi Dench, Penelope Keith, Damian Lewis, Sheridan Smith and hundreds more. As well as entertaining and uplifting modern shows, performances such as Pride and Prejudice, Into The Woods, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mocking Bird have stolen audiences’ hearts.
Do not expect a regular theatre inside this venue. The simplicity of the design brings a very different atmosphere to a typical theatrical space, with the auditorium eschewing regimented seating and closed spaces. The seating arrangement deliberately lends itself to an intimate feeling in spite of its 1,250 seats and, excitingly, additional seating is available on the grass itself — so bring a blanket if this appeals to you. The Daily Telegraph claims that the theatre is ‘one of the most exciting venues in London’, and there is little doubt about that. A community of equality and a sense of belonging is thrust upon you upon entering. What’s more, the actors are only a step away from the audience.
It is a magical experience as visitors are recalled to their childhood, seated in a circle of awe and amazement. The atmosphere feels much more authentic and scintillating than with plays behind doors. There’s nothing like watching Lords of the Flies under the open sky, surrounded by nature, with the chill from the story being felt strongly on the cheeks. The natural light and sounds somehow make the stories seem more real, immersive and wonderful.
Outside the theatre, where a sense of true British culture can be felt, it’s once again very different from traditional theatres. On a fine day, people can be seen carrying hampers of food and cool boxes full of Chardonnay and Prosecco, enjoying a picnic in the grounds. It’s the perfect place for people watching, and you can even get involved in an inexpensive barbecue near the venue — where chicken, ribs, burgers, chips and salads are available to whet the appetite. The outside of the theatre is adorned with little fairy lights, which twinkle under the stars and truly make a visit worthwhile in its romance and excitement.
Of course, outdoor theatres have a downside too — the rain. It’s best to be prepared with wellies and umbrellas as in true British fashion the performances carry on whether drizzle or shine. However, if heavy rain persists tickets can be used again at a later date.
There’s nothing to lose at the Open Air Theatre. Become a part of London culture, experience something new and enjoy a play under a canopy of twinkling stars.