IN the winter months we go to theatres where men dress as women, women dress as men, copious amounts of water and theatrical custard are slopped around, and we all shout things like “It’s behind You!” or “ Oh Yes You do/dont”.
In the summer we gather chairs, rugs and picnics and sit – often in drizzle or even pouring rain- and watch colourfully-dressed people, sometimes single-sex troupes, performing Shakespeare and other classics and newly written comedy.
It should be a question for the “ What is it that makes you British?” entry requirements.
And Brexit or no Brexit, it’s May and it’s time to start thinking about which open air show you want to see. It might be your favourite touring company – there are 13 professional companies producing 26 plays in the south and west this year. It might be your favourite play – ten Shakespeares and lots more on offer in summer 2019. Or it might be the place that’s nearest to you or the venue you always go to with family and friends.
Keeping our fingers tightly crossed that we haven’t already seen the best of the summer weather (and you really do have to talk about weather when you’re thinking about open air plays), here is the FTR guide to what’s on the grassy sward near you.
One of the first out of the starting blocks are the male Handlebards troupe, with Much Ado About Nothing at 14 venues from 25th May (Furzey Gardens at Minstead) to the Shelley Theatre in Boscombe on 7th September. As the boys cycle make one cycle tour of the country, the girls, this year performing The Tempest, start their regional dates at Salisbury Rifles Museum on 7th June, with 12 venues until 4th July at Crofton Beam Engines in Wiltshire. Find out all about the Handlebards tours by visiting www.handlebards.com
Another early starter is newcomer company Heartbreak Productions, which is touring four plays this summer, starting with Gangsta Granny, David Walliams’ popular comedy. It has 11 performances in the region, staring at Barnstaple on 28th May and ending at Highcliffe Castle on 26th August. Shows are timed for family audiences. Heartbreak is also touring Romeo and Juliet, two performances at Torrington and Bristol on 19th June and 24th July, Wuthering Heights, five shows from 27th June (Rowlands Castle) to 16th August at Wells Bishop’s Palace, and Private Lives, in Devon from 7th to 10th August including a performance at Coleton Fishacre, a perfect setting for Coward’s immortal comedy. For full tour details visit www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk
Illyria,celebrating its 28th season, has three shows, starting with Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves at Glastonbury Abbey on 26th May, the first of eight venues ending at Corfe Castle on 27th August. The Tempest has its first performance in our region on 30th June, with six more until 8th September at the Elizabethan Playhouse at Corsley. The third Illyria show is Frankenstein, starting at Glastonbury Abbey on 28th July, with five more performances until 1st September at Cockington Court in Torquay. For full details visit www.illyria.co.uk
The all-male Lord Chamberlain’s Men have chosen A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 2019 show, starting 14 south and south west performances at Salisbury Cathedral Close on 31st May, and ending just down the road at Breamore House on 31st August. For tour details visit www.tlcm.co.uk
The clue’s in the name with Rain or Shine, one of the longest running companies, and they will be performing As You Like It at ten venues, starting at Winchester Bishop’s Palace on 1st June and ending at The Cricketers at Shroton on 26th August. Full details on www.rainorshine.co.uk
Thirty three years ago The Festival Players was founded, and it’s still going strong. This year’s play is Much Ado About Nothing, making 14 stops in the south and west starting at Highcliffe Castle on 5th June and ending its UK tour at Charlton Horethorne Millennium Green at 3pm on 26th August. For more details visit www.thefestivalplayers.co.uk
Cornish based Miracle Theatre has a new play this year, A Perfect World, written by the company’s director Bill Scott with original music by Tom Adams. It’s nine performances in our region start on 12th June at Exeter Phoenix and end on 3rd August at Kimmeridge Bay, the third of its now traditional Artsreach shows. For full details visit www.miracletheatre.co.uk
Chapterhouse is entering its 20th year with six touring productions. The first is Pride and Prejudice, which opens its run at the Neeld Community and Arts Centre in Chippenham on 13th June, and has four more stops unit its appearance at the Regal Theatre in Minehead on 30th August. Next is Treasure Island, whose one stop in the region is at Bath Racecourse on 21st June. The Secret Garden has five south western venues, starting at Dunster Castle on 22nd June and ending at Athelhampton House on 30th August. The tour of Cranford comes to Holme for Gardens at West Holme near Wareham on 4th July, the first of three performances stopping at Arrundells in Salisbury Cathedral Close on 27th August. Wuthering Heights has two stops, at Ansford Academy, Castle Cary on 5th July and Dunster Castle on 31st August. And the final tour, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has three stops, starting at Rowland’s Castle on 10th July and ending at the Regal Theatre in Minehead on 29th August. Visit www.chapterhouse.org for full details.
The Pantaloons have chosen Sense and Sensibility for the summer 2019 tour, and it has ten stops in the region, starting on 14th June at Cannington Walled Garden and ending at Manor Gardens in Exmouth on 8th August. The website, www.thepantaloons.co.uk has full information.
My personal favourite Rude Mechanicals play, Ikarus Inc, is revived for this year’s tour, stopping at seven venues in the south and west starting at Ropley Recreation Ground on 15th June and ending at Child Okeford Recreation Ground on 13th July. www.therudemechanicaltheatre.co.uk has more information.
Quantum Theatre has two tours this year, of The Wind in the Willows and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The dream has only two stops in our region, on 23rd June at Highcliffe Castle and on 6th July at Bristol Brandon Hill. The Kenneth Graheme classic has three stops, at Torre Abbey, Torquay, on 27th July, Highcliffe Castle on 6th August and at the Rifles Museum in Salisbury Cathedral Close on 24th August. Find out more on www.quantumtheatre.co.uk
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Folksy Theatre has two tours this year. The first in our region is The Comedy of Errors, which has 12 venues starting on 19th adn 20th July at Boiling Wells Amphitheatre in Bristol, and ends on 31st August at Blakehay Theare in Weston super Mare (where the show will be performed indoors. The second tour is Mister Magnolia, nine venues starting at Frome Merlin’s ECOS amphitheatre on 26th July and ending at Holme for Gardens at West Holme near Wareham on 31st August. See www.folksytheatre.co.uk for more details.
Newcomers Box Tree Productions bring their The Legend of King Arthur to six venues in the south and west, starting on 1st August at Rosemoor Gardens, Great Torrington and ending on 9th August at Rowland’s Castle. For more details visit www.boxtreeproductions.co.uk