Outdoor theatre: London's loveliest open air shows, 2019
London's best open air theatre: summer is coming and culture's heading outside with a season of unmissable outdoor performances across the city
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Tucked away in the leafy centre of Regents Park's, the Open Air Theatre is just 10 minutes from Baker Street tube, but feels a million miles away from city stress. Twinkly fairy lights, a barbecue and flowing Pimm's make for a magical evening where shows are just part of the charm. Cross your fingers for fair weather, but bring warm clothes and waterproofs, too. The show will only be cancelled in extreme conditions, and you'll be invited to re-book for another date.
Doors open 90 minutes before performances so go early and soak up evening sun while lazing on the lawn. Bring along your own picnic, peruse the seasonal offerings of the Summer Cafe, grab a gourmet burger from the barbecue or treat yourself and pre-order a picnic from the theatre (the goodies on offer include ice-cream, smoked salmon and champagne).
This summer there's a revival of Thorton Wilder's classic drama Our Town, an operatic version of Hansel and Gretel, the return of the Open Air Theatre's much-loved take on A Midsummer Night's Dream and a new production of 1978 musical Evita.
Steeped in history, Shakespeare's Globe is a lovingly recreated copy of the bard's original Elizabethan playhouse and stands on the same Bankside spot. Every summer it opens up the vast, round, roofless space with a season of new Shakespeare productions, spanning traditional to more experimental interpretations.
For a bargain price of just £5, audiences can step back in time and become groundlings, standing right in the midst of the action. Come rain or shine the show will go on so pack your macs. Whether history, tragedy or comedy, Shakespeare's plays are made accessible enough for those that don't know their Rosalinds from their Portias.
2019 is all about the history plays, as Shakespeare's narratives explore past, present and future and interact with the myths and conflicts that still resonate in Brexit Britain.
Down by the river, on the banks of the Thames, London's National Theatre spills out beyond the Olivier, Lyttleton and Dorfman auditoriums. For five weekends, from 5 July to 4 August, the outdoor River Stage comes to life with an eclectic programme of live music, guest DJs, dance and performance. It combines the topnotch talent of the standard NT programming with a casual, turn-up-and find-a-perch or walk-past-and-end-up-losing-a-whole-afternoon kind of vibe. A pop up cocktail bar, retro ice-cream van and wood-fired pizza stall add to the festival atmosphere.
This year starts with a riot of cabaret, drag and mischief as The Glory lead a Pride Party (5 - 7 July). Next, the best of the Arab cultural scene takes over with a family-friendly programme of performances and activities (12 - 14 July). London's new status as the world's first National Park City is inspiration for the third weekend (19 - 21 July), where acts are inspired by nature and wilderness. Pioneering theatre company Frantic Assembly shake things take up residency and present a new piece especially commissioned for the River Stage (26 - 28 July). And the final weekend closing party (2 - 4 August) is curated by the National Theatre, with a programme to appeal to all the family.
Opera Holland Park
Get the quintessential English country house opera atmosphere, right in the centre of London with Holland Park's annual outdoor opera festival. Set under a canopy of trees against the imposing backdrop of Holland House, the productions are high enough quality to impress classical music snobs — and theatrical enough to engage everyone else.
Founded by Michael Volpe, Opera Holland Park has a reputation for venturing beyond that traditional remits of opera, by casting new light on neglected classics and creating a programme that's affordable and inclusive.
This year's highlights include Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Juilliard.
From 21 June – 6 July, Greenwich and Docklands International Festival promises a fresh load of street performances in London’s loudest and proudest celebration of outdoor theatre. There’s a wealth to choose from and nearly all events are free, so spend a day in South East London sniffing out the good stuff.
From shimmering street parades to awe-inspiring acrobatics, spectacle is the key word here. Highlights of this year's ever-eclectic selection include a French circus troupe in a Thamsmead estate, a dance-theatre fusion telling the story of Moby Dick and and techni-colour street party in the centre of Greenwich.
Browse the full season here
Open-air Courtyard at Battersea Arts Centre
A combination of comedy, spoken word, music and theatre makes up a lively summer at Battersea Arts Centre's outdoor courtyard from 5 June to 12 July. We're excited to see comedy from award-winning trio Sleeping Trees (7pm, 12 June) and Adam Riches (7pm, 5 July) and a series of poetry and spoken word open mic poetry nights from BoxedIn.
Shakespeare at Westminster Cathedral
Dean's Yard in the heart of Westminster Abbey must be the most scenic setting for Shakespeare production. This summer open air theatre company Illyria bring The Tempest to life amidst the spires and scared spaces.
With sorcery, romance and shipwrek, the show has plenty to enchant audiences. There's comedy courtesy of drunken hi-jinks and mistaken identities, along with love, as sheltered Miranda discovers the romantic potential of the world beyond her island.
In their 28th touring season, Illyria have plenty of expertise when it comes to Shakespeare. And the historic Westminster Abbey backdrop will guarantee a unique atmosphere – let's just hope the skies aren't too tempestuous for this open air show.
Shakespeare is coming to a green space near you. Shakespeare in the Squares' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is touring around London's most picturesque parks including Bedford Square, St. James Square, and Queen's Park.
Tatty Hennessy was associate director for the Globe’s world tour of Hamlet across 2014 – 2016 and impressed with last year's As You Like It. This year promises a similarly transportive experience, as stucco-fronted houses and London sunsets provide a chaming backdrop to magic and comedy.