Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, in the City of Westminster, London, is a permanent venue with an annual sixteen-week summer season. It was founded in 1932 by Sydney Carroll and Robert Atkins.<ref>Touchstone : Online Exhibition</ref>
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 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.
A selection of pre-theatre dining options are available throughout the season including a hot & cold buffet, barbecue and covered dining where you can pre-book to be served dinner before the performance, with coffee and dessert served in the interval. The theatre also boasts its own picnic lawn with tables for the audience to bring their own food.
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.
The theatre also has a hospitality suite, the Robert Atkins Studio, available for corporate bookings and events, including special Christmas packages. Information about booking the Robert Atkins studio is available on the theatre’s website.
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.
Actors that have performed at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre include: Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Neagle, Robert Helpmann, Vivian Leigh, Eileen Atkins, Leslie French, Bill Kenwright, Felicity Kendal, Anthony Andrews, Wayne Sleep, Ricky Tomlinson, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Wakefield, 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 and Jane Asher.
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 played to full houses and will return to the venue to close the 2014 season, before a UK Tour.
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 (29 June – 20 July).
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.
- Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell, pp. 129–130 (Theatres Trust, 2000). ISBN 0-7136-5688-3.