Nine things

Summer venues for open air shows

THERE has been a busy programme of open air plays and entertainments for many years, but this year there are more dates with more companies at more venues than ever. It’s not surprising, given the uncertainty caused by Covid and the lockdowns, and the continuing nervousness with new variants, whether theatres and arts centres will be able to open fully, as hoped, in late June. We have a full listing of open air shows in the region on the Arts Diary, but here’s a run-down of some of the most interesting open air venues – some are familiar from previous years and some are new.

Castle Gardens, a popular garden centre and cafe at Sherborne has been hosting visits by Illyria Theatre for many years. One of the most prolific and entertaining of the open air specialists, Illyria’s 2021 choice is Much Ado, G & S’s HMS Pinafore and the Further Adventures of Dr Doolittle.

The Gaggle of Geese at Buckland Newton, a popular pub on the outskirts of the village, which is at the top of the Piddle valley road to Dorchester, is another new Artsreach open air venue. The pub is hosting Paddleboat Theatre with Rustle, an interactive family show.

Glastonbury Abbey is probably Somerset’s most beautiful and atmospheric setting for outdoor theatre and music. This year’s choice includes Macbeth, Beauty and the Beast, and the annual Extravaganza, moving to September, with Van Morrison headlining.

Little Beerland at Ryall, a few miles west of Bridport, is a new summer venue for Dorset’s Artsreach rural touring charity. The beautiful countryside site is hosting Cornish actress and singer Bec Appleby with Oh Mary!, her one-woman show about a daring female adventurer and pirate.

The Marine Theatre at Lyme Regis has a matchless position, right on the seafront, with a natural open air performing area close by – so there is even the possibility of cover if the weather isn’t kind. The Handlebards are there,  Also heading for Lyme Regis is Slapstick Picnic, with cucumber sandwiches and a two-handed version of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Maumbury Rings, the ancient earthworks in the centre of Dorchester, is as atmospheric as it gets. It’s been visited regularly over the years by Cornwall’s Miracle Theatre, but this year Dorchester Arts has programmed a wide range of open air plays, including a welcome return for Hotbuckle Theatre with their adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbevilles. A new visitor this year is the all-female Handlebards troupe – bicycling purveyors of the Bard who bring brilliant physical skills and comedy to even the darkest play (their choice this year is Macbeth.)

The Minack Theatre, on cliffs at the western end of Cornwall, is a favourite with visitors and this year it’s likely to be busier than usual. The programme includes music and theatre, and it’s booking out fast. It’s particularly poignant this year in Cornwall, with the newly announced closing of Kneehigh Theatre. We will all miss it.


Rack Close, in Salisbury Cathedral Close, is a hidden garden at the southern end of the close. It creates a great atmosphere for open air performance, this year including a return by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with the Scottish play.

Torre Abbey, a spectacular historic site in Torquay, has been the setting for open air events for some years. This year the choice includes an Open Air Cinema Festival in August.

• All events must be booked; check out the Arts Diary for dates and times, and visit the companies’ websites for more information.

Pictured: Castle Gardens, part of The Gardens Group, at Sherborne; Glastonbury Abbey; the Marine Theatre beside the sea at Lyme Regis; an aerial view of Maumbury Rings, in the centre of Dorchester; the spectacular setting of Cornwall’s Minack Theatre; Salisbury Cathedral Close, generally considered the most beautiful in the country; the gardens of Torre Abbey.