A beginner’s guide to… Open-air Theatre, Regent’s Park

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The experience is so magical it’s unreal. If you’ve never been, here’s what to expect

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Full house audience at Open Air Theatre at sunset
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What: Actually one of the largest in London, the Open-Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is still something of a secret to many Londoners. Created in 1932, it’s known for its dynamic productions – with huge audiences of 140,000 over its annual 18-week seasons. Big hits recently have included Hello, Dolly! as well as Lord Of The Flies and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Where: Even if you know your Inner Circle (the prettiest section of the park, with its formal gardens, curving lakes, and geese-a-plenty), you may have somehow never been into the cavernous auditorium that lies at its heart. Your best bet is to stroll into the park, and head for the boating lake. From there, it’s a hop over one of several cute bridges. In fact, it’s right by the Regent’s Bar & Kitchen cafe.

I’ve never been. Talk me through it. Although evening performances start at 745pm, a top tip is to arrive when gates open at 615pm. Why? So you can wander the site, peruse the curving bar, grab a beer and a table, and consider the various food options on offer. There’s the grill, for pulled pork and cheeseburgers (with a vegetarian option), the posher Covered Dining (£32 per head gets you a table for the night with a main course before and dessert in the interval), a gin bar and an artisan cafe. We chose the latter, which offers various mains (scotch egg, sausage roll, quiche, salmon) with a choice of salads – relatively healthy such as beetroot, quinoa, red cabbage, fennel and beans. All mains hover at about £10-12.

Waiter serving food at Summer Cafe at Open Air Theatre
Summer Cafe at the theatre. Photo: PR

And drinks? Quite good, actually. Decent craft beer from Chapel Down’s Curious Brew, as well as their signature Kentish wines (we particularly like the rose, although the Flint Dry is a crisp white). And gin. Lots of it.

So, the actual shows. What to catch this summer? We’ve just watched a superior production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (ends 28th July). It’s a brilliant modern-day dress interpretation of the Forest Of Arden-set classic that makes the timeless themes of rejection, true love and the search for meaning in life really (and literally) sing. As the Bard’s lightest work, there are genuine sitcom elements to counter the philosophical leanings of (female) Jaques (an inspired Maureen Beattie) and the darkness of the opening scenes. Not to mention some awesome and hilarious pop culture references to Beyonce, Adele and Annie Lennox, as well as a soaring soundtrack created by Noah and The Whale’s frontman Charlie Fink.

And after that finishes? The mighty Little Shop Of Horrors runs for six weeks (3rd Aug – 15th Sept), and Dinosaur World Live (14th Aug – 9th Sept).

Cast on stage for performance of As You Like It at Open Air Theatre
As You Like It 2018. Cast photograph © Jane Hobson.

Is it comfortable? Yes, the pull-down seats are as comfy as any indoor theatre, and on our visit, despite a nip in the air by nightfall, we were still in t-shirts. But best to pack something warm if you feel the cold.

How much is it? Typically £25-£55, and there’s good visibility all round.

Did you know? On Sunday nights there’s stand-up from Simon Amstell and Jimmy Carr and movies like the Greatest Showman and Spiceworld. Tickets for these are about £20.

We really liked: The real life intervention adding an extra dimension to the characters’ performances: on our visit wood pigeons swooped, parakeets soared and cheeped, and planes and even (Trump’s) helicopters, at times, rattled overhead. High drama, indeed.

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For more info on future shows at Open Air Theatre and to book, head here

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