Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Logo
|Public transit||Baker Street|
|Owner||Regent's Park Theatre Ltd.|
|Type||Open-air theatre, with resident company|
The theatre is located in Queen Mary's Gardens, on the Inner Circle of Regent's Park and consequently is surrounded entirely by parkland. It was founded in 1932 by Sydney Carroll and Robert Atkins. The theatre is completely uncovered; the only sheltered area being underneath the tiered auditorium, which houses one of the longest bars of any theatre in London — stretching the entire length of the seating.
The theatre houses an extensive backstage area complete with green room for the company and technical team, a full wardrobe, makeup and wigs department, a workshop and paintshop for the creation and maintenance of stage sets and numerous offices for stage management, sound, LX and other crew.
Being open air, performances are dependent on the not-so dependable British weather. In the case of wet weather, the Met Office is called to determine the immediate forecast. Shows cannot be held for longer than 45 minutes, especially in the case of matinees as the delayed finish will dramatically interfere with the technical preparations for the evening show.
The theatre is a registered charity, run by an Artistic Director Timothy Sheader and Executive Director William Village. The charity’s Board of Trustees is chaired by Councillor Robert Davis DL, and includes Sir Peter Rogers, Pippa Ailion, Suzy Graham-Adriani, Robert Noble, William Village and Dame Judi Dench. The theatre has also been the inspiration for other open-air theatres around the world, such as the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre in Cape Town and Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester.
Actors that have performed at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre include: Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Neagle, Robert Helpmann, Vivien Leigh, Eileen Atkins, Leslie French, Bill Kenwright, Felicity Kendal, Anthony Andrews, Wayne Sleep, Ricky Tomlinson, Jeremy Irons, Zoë Wanamaker, Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Lesley Garrett, Douglas Hodge, Richard E. Grant, Natasha Richardson, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Biggins, Jenny Galloway, Joanna Riding, Samantha Spiro, Jenna Russell, Liz Robertson, Toyah Willcox, Bernard Bresslaw (who died in his dressing room at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, while performing the part of Grumio in the 1993 production of The Taming of the Shrew), Nigel Planer, Nigel Harman, Su Pollard, Milton Jones, John Malkovich, Scarlett Strallen, Sheridan Smith, Summer Strallen, Topol, Millicent Martin, Janie Dee, Clive Rowe, Martha Wainwright, Hannah Waddingham, Helen Dallimore, Robert Sean Leonard, Jane Asher and Alex Gaumond.
2007 saw the 25th and final year of artistic director, Ian Talbot. The Season included productions of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lady, Be Good, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Boy Friend. The choice to perform Lady, Be Good was in reflection of his final year, being the first musical he directed at the park.
Timothy Sheader became Artistic Director of the theatre in November 2007. His first season, produced in 2008, consisted of productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Lerner and Loewe's Gigi - starring Millicent Martin as Mamita and Topol as Honore - and an especially adapted production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for family audiences.
2009 saw Timothy Sheader's second season as Artistic Director of the theatre. Productions included Much Ado About Nothing, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Tempest (adapted for family audiences) and Hello, Dolly!. Dolly! won several awards, including the Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical for its star Samantha Spiro.
In 2010, the theatre presented new productions of The Crucible, The Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, which was adapted for younger audiences. The Season musical was Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim. The production starred Hannah Waddingham, as the Witch, Jenna Russell, as the Baker's Wife, and Helen Dallimore, as Cinderella. It was the first time that Into the Woods had been performed outside and won the Olivier Award for 'Best Musical Revival". The production subsequently transferred to the Public Theater's Delacorte Theater in New York City in 2012 starring a completely American cast which included Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams.
The 2011 season included productions of Lord of the Flies, The Beggar's Opera, Shakespeare's Pericles (re-imagined for everyone aged six and over) and the Musical Crazy for You. Crazy for You received the highest number of five star reviews of any musical opening in 2011 and became the first Open Air Theatre production to transfer directly into the West End, where it played at the Novello Theatre.
For the 2012 season, two productions ran across the entire season in repertoire: The Tony Award-winning Ragtime the Musical directed by Timothy Sheader and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Matthew Dunster.
Directed by Timothy Sheader and adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel, Harper Lee’s American classic To Kill a Mockingbird opened the 2013 season with Robert Sean Leonard as Atticus Finch, his first London appearance in 22 years. The show returned in 2014.
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird was followed by a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice starring Jane Asher as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, alongside a production of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, tailored specifically for children aged six and over.
Returning to close the 2013 season, Rachel Kavanaugh directed a sell-out and extended run of The Sound of Music starring Charlotte Wakefield as Maria. With over 188,000 visitors, the 2013 season broke all records.
The 2014 season began with Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, directed by Timothy Sheader, followed by Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night re-imagined for aged six and over. Timothy Sheader also directed The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess with a cast drawn from Broadway and the West End.
Following its sell-out run in 2013, To Kill a Mockingbird returned to conclude the 2014 season, before embarking on a UK tour. To Kill a Mockingbird will return to London in June 2015, when Robert Sean Leonard will reprise his role of Atticus Finch at the Barbican Centre.
The 2015 season was announced in late October. J.M. Barrie's original stage play of Peter Pan opened the season, and was followed by Anton Chekhov's The Seagull in a new version by Torben Betts. Rachel Kavanaugh returned to the park to direct the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Their 2011 acclaimed production of William Golding's Lord of the Flies returned for 14 performances ahead of a major UK tour.
A new adaptation of Running Wild by Michael Morpurgo opened the 2016 season as a co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre. Henry V followed in celebration of the life and legacy of William Shakespeare. Artistic Director, Timothy Sheader directed the 2016 musical, a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which played to sold out audiences and won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival. Following a sell-out run in 2013, Pride and Prejudice returned to the Park at the end of the season ahead of a UK tour.
In November 2016 it was announced that On the Town would open the 2017 season, followed by Dickens Uncovered, a new adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and Oliver Twist adapted for younger audiences, Oliver Twist created for everyone aged six and over. Jesus Christ Superstar returns to conclude the season. In January 2017 it was announced that the theatre had won London Theatre of the Year at The Stage Awards.
- Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell, pp. 129–130 (Theatres Trust, 2000). ISBN 0-7136-5688-3.
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