If you have read many of my previous ops, you will already know that my daughter and I are somewhat a couple of theatre addicts. We go together at every opportunity. It doesn’t really matter what is showing, we love to go anyway. It just happens that we both enjoy Shakespeare plays. Last year, we were fortunate enough to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer Night at Midnight, at the Globe theatre in London (see my op on same). Now that really was a magical night. We were, however, dismayed to find, that although there was to be a midnight performance at the Globe on Midsummer’s night this year, it wasn’t even going to be a Shakespeare play! Now how sacrilegious is that? In fact, we weren’t even inspired to attend the Globe at all this summer, as neither of us fancied the plays that are being produced there this year. We were, however, delighted to find that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of the productions being included at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre this summer, so I decided to book seats for her birthday. In fact, the seats are for 3 weeks before her birthday, as fitting in anything right now takes a full scale conference! Anyway, to cut a long story short (who me???) I very easily booked 3 seats (hubby came too) for the July 8th (Tuesday) performance through Ticketmaster, in row F of the front stalls, received my tickets with time to spare, and waited patiently (who me again??) to see what the weather would be doing. Knowing what the weather will be doing is important for these open air theatres. Our first experience was some years ago at the Porthcurno open air theatre in Cornwall. It chucked it down! Usually, if it has been raining heavily for some time before a performance, and shows no sign of abating, then that performance will be called off and you can rebook your seats for another night. If, however, it begins to rain after the start of a performance, then
tough luck! You get jolly wet! Having learned this to my cost, I now have a couple of oversized pac-a-macs from the Globe (they only cost £2.00 each) which sit in a handy pocket in my backpack, just in case! As yet, they haven’t been utilised, but you can bet your life, if I leave them out, then I will need them! Anyway, I digress. (Who me?? Perish the thought!) BOOKING I am writing this section of my op prior to the performance date, so the information given here is taken from the official website for the theatre: http://openairtheatre.org/ This season, there are two Shakespeare plays being produced: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Booking can be done in a variety of methods, including those below. In some cases, a booking fee may be charged on top of ticket prices. a) By telephoning the Box office: 0207 486 2431 This can be done Monday to Saturday, 10am – 8pm b) 24 hour telephone booking with Ticketselect on 0207 494 5375. A £1.50 booking fee per ticket is added c) Online at www.tickets.com Again, a £1.20 booking fee per ticket is added, and they do not deal with any discounts that may apply to certain performances. d) By post or in person at The Box Office Open Air Theatre Inner Circle, Regent’s Park London NW1 4NP The website includes a seating plan, prices, performance schedule, and information about the inclement weather! Apparently very few performances are actually cancelled outright, and the decision about whether a performance will take place or not is never made until scheduled performance time! Oh well, I might need those macs after all! Travel information is included. It is hardly worth taking the car and paying Ken’s congestion charge on top of parking, so we will take the tube to Baker Street and then walk. A handy map is also included, showing exactly where the theatre is in
relation to the tube stations. PRICES I paid £26 each for our seats, which were amongst the best in the house. This is about average for seats at any theatre in London, indoors or out, although you can pay much more for some of the really popular shows, like Les Miserables. There are 2 tiers in the Regents Park Theatre: the lower circle and the upper circle. To be honest, wherever you sat you would get a good view, although I’m not sure the sound would have been as good if you were further back. Prices ranged from £26 down to £9.50, with a £2 discount on all preview nights. Groups of 10 or more receive a 10% discount. With each adult ticket purchased, you can get up to 3 half price children’s tickets. Standby tickets are available on the day of the performance for £9.00 each with a senior citizen or student ID. Wheelchair users and one carer can purchase tickets for all performances for £9.00 each. Half price tickets are available for all sign supported performances for hearing impaired personel. A HISTORY OF THE THEATRE The theatre on its present site has been a permanent feature in Regent's Park since 1932, when three performances of Twelfth Night were staged to great acclaim. Ever since, summertime Shakespeare has become an established and much-loved highlight of Park life and of London's theatrical calendar. Between 1932 and 1960, Robert Atkins and Sydney Carroll produced almost all of Shakespeare's works here, as well as specially commissioned plays by authors including George Bernard Shaw. Audiences sat on deck-chairs for 6/- apiece, with those in the back row needing binoculars to watch the action! In 1962, David Conville, the present Chairman, took over the running of the theatre and founded the resident New Shakespeare Company. The fully raked auditorium was built in 1975, incorporating 1187 seats as well as bar and restaurant facilities to replace the old 'supper tent'.
2000 saw the theatre re-open with wonderful improvements to the front of house areas - an extended picnic lawn, a new dedicated sponsors' building and replanting to enhance the magic of this beautiful venue. There are now better amenities for audiences, sponsors, performers and staff, and in 2001 the renovation of the seating in the auditorium was completed. While Shakespeare’s plays were entertaining audiences at the original Globe Theatre in Southwark, the land that is now Regent’s Park was in the throes of a makeover from forest to small farms, the latter providing hay for London! Today Regent’s Park has its own much-loved Open Air Theatre, set in the Inner Circle and surrounded by Queen Mary’s Rose Garden. BEFORE THE PERFORMANCE It is tradition to begin the evening at the open air theatre with a picnic! Now anybody who has read my op on the Last Night of the Proms in the Park, will know that I like to do this in style! Not just your old cheese and tomato sarnies and an apple type thing! I like to go the whole hog (well, not literally!) So we will be feasting on roasted chicken breasts, French bread (with proper butter) freshly prepared salad, strawberries and cream, and of course, the Champagne, sipped from the very up-market plastic champagne flutes purchased from the very up-market Tesco store round the corner! We will also be taking a flask of coffee (just in case it’s a bit chilly!) and no doubt some other goodies. All will be packed in a cold bag and transported across London via the tube! I might even dig out the lace tablecloth and silver candelabra! (Here is where I now begin praying that the sun shines! Can you imagine carting all that lot, only to have to eat it on the journey home?) Here ends the first part of this op, as I can hardly talk about what happened until I’ve been there, can I? ON THE DAY The day before we were due to go was glorious. It was hot
and sunny with wall to wall sunshine. Great! Then we awoke on the Tuesday. Still warm and muggy, but overcast and dull. All day long, whilst at work, I kept glancing out at the skies. Would it or wouldn’t it? Four O’clock arrived, and it still hadn’t rained, and, wonder of wonders, the sun even began to shine! Best to be safe than sorry though, so the pac a macs were packed, just in case! Hubby picked me up from work having already been to buy the French bread (well you can’t have yesterday’s French Stick can you? We got home, and I had just about an hour to get all the food packed, and myself ready. The chicken was already cooked and sliced, so really all I had to do was pack the cool bag. It’s amazing just how much one of those will hold. I even got the Champagne in it, complete with freezer pack inside one of those little freezer bags they sometimes supply you with in the supermarket when you get a pick and mix ice cream selection! We left home (20 minutes late) and headed for the station. For once, our connections were good, and we arrived at Baker Street shortly after 6.30 pm. Daughter was already there, sitting outside a coffee shop with a huge Cappuccino, and off we set for the short walk to the theatre. We arrived at 7, and went straight in. There was a huge bar and food outlet just inside the entrance, but as we had taken our own, we ignored this, and made our way to the picnic table area. There were still quite a few empty tables, so we chose a level looking one, and proceeded to unpack. First came the tablecloth. Well, in actual fact it was a tea towel, but it did the job admirably. I don’t as yet have a Shakespeare tea towel, so Oscar Wilde had to suffice! We dined on cold chicken, sausage kebabs, mixed salad, and French bread, served on silver (coloured) platters, and eaten with plastic knives and forks, all washed down with a bottle of Tesco’s demi-sec Champagne
(and very nice it was too) sipped out of those wonderful plastic champagne flutes! Then we finished off with fresh raspberries (picked lovingly the day before) topped with fresh cream! Just before 8 pm we made our way to our seats. We had a wonderful view, and because the stage is circular, it wasn’t even noticeable that we were slightly to one side. The seats already had cushions on them, so the ones we had taken with us weren’t utilised. THE PLAY ITSELF The setting of this open-air theatre lends itself perfectly to this play, with its backdrop of trees and foliage. The grassy slopes that ran up the sides of the seating areas were utilised in the scenes where the lovers are running from each other (or chasing each other, depending on your point of view. Birds occasionally fluttered in the nearby trees, adding to the atmosphere, and as the evening grew darker, large moths could be seen fluttering around the lighting. I don’t intend giving a run down on the play itself, as that would take all day! Instead, I will just pick out some of the memorable scenes and moments from the evening. It was obvious from the start that this was going to be an interesting version of the play. Hyppolyta was displayed as a somewhat bored lush, who gave the impression that she would rather be somewhere other than where she found herself, and Theseus was portrayed as a somewhat overbearing, long-suffering sort of fellow. It was completely different from the last two versions of this play that I have seen, but it worked. Bottom, played by Peter Forbes, looked wonderful in his ass’s head. This is the only production I have seen where the mouth of the ass’s mask actually moved, rather like a puppet. It reminded me very much of the donkey in the film Shrek, there it seemed to take on the personality of Eddie Murphy, who was providing the voice-over. The expressions Peter Forbes managed to bring to life wit
h a few tilts of the head and a couple of moth movements really added to these scenes. There was an amazing backdrop at the rear of the stage. Blending in with the natural background of trees and bushes was a curtain which was made to look like ivy, through which the fairies melted in and out as if by magic. From where we were sitting, we weren’t even aware that it was a curtain until somebody suddenly appeared through it! The highlight of the play was, as usual, the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, acted out by the townsfolk. This ended with a Zorba the Greek type dance, with the whole audience clapping along in time. If there was a weak point, it was with the character who played Puck. I always imagine Puck as a mischievous, playful, almost boyish figure. This Puck seemed somewhat too manly, especially in the first half of the play. I have to say, however, that he seemed to improve dramatically after the interval, and although he was still quite manly, he did manage to convey the mischievous element much better in the second half. We also had a short scare at about 10 pm when a few drops of rain spattered down on us, but as it was still very warm, they were refreshing rather than an intrusion. There were only a few large spots, and they only lasted a couple of minutes, so the macs weren’t needed. I had taken along a cushion, a fleece jacket and the macs, but luckily, didn’t need any of them. I’m glad I took them though, because you can bet your life if I’d left them at home I would have needed at least one of them! All in all, including the train journey there and back, we had a jolly good night out. The weather was kind, the picnic and Champagne delicious, and the play was both enjoyable and entertaining. This is the first time I have been to this particular theatre, but it certainly won’t be the last. There is something very special about watching a play like this in an outsid
e setting, and it differs vastly from the atmosphere you get in an indoor theatre. If you enjoy Shakespeare, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular, then I would thoroughly recommend this production and location. For a birthday treat, or just to pamper yourself, why not get a small party together, have a jolly good picnic, and then sit back and enjoy some good entertainment. Of course you may have to pray that the rain stays away. We were fortunate. I’m not so sure I would have enjoyed it quite so much if the heavens had opened, even with the mac! Website used for info on the theatre www.openairtheatre.org