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Open Air! 18 places to see outdoor theatre in Herts & Beds

Picnic hampers, camping chairs (and erm... maybe ponchos!) at the ready: it's al fresco theatre season! You've got your pick this year, from great Shakes to comedy classics, and fantastical tales to kid pleasers. Here's what to book now.

The Living Theatre, Whitwell

This grassroots outddor theatre venue sprung up out of the Pandemic and is a dedicated rural performance space in Whitwell near Hitchin. For the first time they are putting on a Summer Festival from 21-31 July with performances including a brand new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, plus other new writing, workshops, yoga and more, with the aim of promoting wellbeing and bringing the arts to the local rural community. Sounds fab!

The Farmhouse at Redcoats, Hitchin

This gorgeously rustic wedding venue and hotel will play host to the fabulously funny Half Cut Theatre on 6 July, performing Much Ado About Nothing on the lawn. What’s more, thanks to their ‘theatre for all’ philosophy, you can book online then pay what you decide after the show!

Knebworth House, Garden Theatre

There’s nothing like a stunning stately home to create a dramatic backdrop. The dedicated al fresco theatre space on the sunken lawn of Knebworth’s grounds is playing host to not one, but four performances this summer, kicking off with a riotous take on Twelfth Night on 15 June by the Three Inch Fools. Next up, on 7 August, is a true-to-original performance of As You Like It, as Will Shakes would have seen it himself, with an all-male cast, by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Or if the Bard’s not your bag, Oscar Wilde’s comedy that revolves around a handbag might be. The Importance of Being Earnest by Immersion Theatre is on 16 August. Last, but not least, the same company brings their adaptation of Rapunzel on 25 August for the kids (watch out for the water guns in the crowd!). It’s worth noting though that your ticket won’t get you into the gardens, house or dino trail, so book those separately if you’re planning to make a special trip.

The Roman Theatre of Verulamium, St Albans

There’s an eclectic bag coming to St Albans’ traditional Roman amphitheatre this season, as part of the Roman Theatre Festival which kicked off in May. Highlights coming up, which span the decades, include the 70’s disco take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (until 11 June), iconic 80’s musical, Rent (21-26 June), and HG Wells’ futuristic War of the Worlds on 4 July.

There’s also The Importance of Being Earnest (2-17 July), and comedy experts, The Pantaloons’ version of The Wind in the Willows from 20-24 July. Then things get gruesome with Jekyll and Hyde (25-26 July), and a brand new show from Horrible Histories’ writer, Terry Deary, Twisted Tales on 30 July that’ll be a hit with the kids.

Photo by Tim Morozzo

The festival concludes with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (yep, all 37 plays) performed in 97 minutes (27-30 July), followed by Louisa May Allcott’s family friendly Little Women (3-14 Aug) and a gothic finale, The Woman in White (17-21 Aug). Planning on seeing a few shows? Buy a Festival Pass for £70 – it’s excellent value for money!

photo by Tim Morozzo

Hatfield Park

The importance of Being Earnest is also showing on 2 Aug at the grand Hatfield Park, as is Rapunzel on 1 Aug. The perfect excuse to have a snoop around the gorgeous grounds, too!

Hafield Forest and Shaw’s Corner, National Trust

National Trust venues, from forests to artists’ homes, make ideal venues for a spot of outdoor theatre. Here’s what’s coming up locally: As You Like It will come to Hatfield Forest on 22 June while for the kiddies, Illyria brings the magic of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie to the same venue on 8 July and Quantum Theatre’s The Reluctant Dragon will be performed on 13 Aug. The Hatfield Forest progamme concludes with Illyria’s The Pirates of Penzance on 3 Sept.

Finally, where better to see a performance of George Bernard Shaw’s famous tale of the Cockney flower girl-turned Fair Lady, Pygmalion (31 July), than at Shaw’s Corner, near Welwyn – the author’s former home?

Hertford Castle

Family friendly The Reluctant Dragon offers a lighthearted take on the tale of George and the dragon – with no better backdrop than a real castle! – as a matinee performance on 25th June. While A Misummer Night’s Dream is the evening show on the same date. We’re expecting some fairytale magic!

Moggerhanger Park

Enjoy the view of this Grade I-listed Sir John Soane’s house and Repton-designed gardens as you watch one man take on all the characters of The Wind in the Willows in a solo performance in the Walled Gardens on 30 July and 3 Sept. And The Importance of Being Earnest is on 13 August – and to fully immerse yourself in the aristocratic experience, why not treat yourself and book yourself in for a night’s stay, too?

Shenley Park, Radlett

This charming Walled Garden Open Air Theatre is hosting four plays this summer, including The Taming of the Shrew (10 July), Much Ado About Nothing (17 July), War of the Worlds (6 August) and The Reluctant Dragon (20 Aug).

Myddleton House Gardens, Lee Valley

This botanical garden is often described as a hidden gem, with its collection of rare and unusual plants, making it a perfectly pretty setting for Pygmalion on 9 July. That’s followed by The Jungle Book on 24 July amongst the greenery, Much Ado on 6 August, the countryside tale of The Wind in the Willows on 20 August and The Railway Children on 25 Aug.

Turvey House, Bedfordshire

Owners of the stunning Georgian private home, Turvey House are welcoming theatre goers to the grounds for Twelfth Night on 24 July and The Gunpowder Plot on 7 Sept. Both plays will be performed by the hilarious, mischievious, music-making Three Inch Fools.

Ashridge House, nr Berkhamsted

The open air stage at the rather regal Ashridge House is playing host to The Tempest on 14 July and A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 23 August. No bringing your own picnic though here – they can be ordered in advance and there’ll be an on-site bar, too.

RSPB’s The Lodge, Sandy

The Merry Wives of Windsor comes to this nature reserve on 2 July, followed by a rather unseasonal (and a bit spooky – maybe not for the kids, then) Dracula on 16 July, both performed by British Touring Shakespeare on 16 July. Pack your binoculars and you might even spot some birdlife while you’re there!

THE BEST OF THE REST

The Taming of the Shrew by Drama Impact is coming to both Walden Bury in Hitchin on 25 June and Tring’s Memorial Gardens on 26 June. And you’re in for a treat as the fantastical Rogue Otherworld brings mythical tales of witches and faeries, bikers and pop princesses, to Home Farm in Elstree in their lastest show, Wild By Nature, from 29-31 July.

For more great Shakes, As You Like It will be on at Wrest Park, performed by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men on 5 August. Then the magical Bridge End Gardens in Saffron Waldon makes an almost immersively apt setting for Alice in Wonderland with its neat topiary mazes, on 19-20 August.

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