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The 7 best outdoor theatres in London and the UK to visit for al fresco culture

From London landmarks to Cornish coastal gems, here’s where to watch your favourite plays under the stars

The 7 best outdoor theatres in the UK to visit this summer for al fresco culture

The arrival of summer sees the UK’s culture vultures emerge from darkened theatres to get their drama hit in the great outdoors, with atmospheric open-air theatres popping up in London’s leafiest spots as well as bucolic havens around the country. From musical theatre in a quiet corner of Regent’s Park to Shakespeare in the some of the capital’s most sought-after private gardens and dramatic clifftop views from Cornwall’s most famous theatre, we’ve rounded up the best outdoor theatres across London and the UK to book tickets at this summer.

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Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This leafy outdoor theatre in a quiet corner of one of London’s most beautiful parks is one of the largest auditoriums in the capital, as well as being the oldest professional outdoor theatre in Britain. Open from May through September, the theatre is known for its reinventions of classic musicals, which this summer sees Legally Blonde take to the stage from 13 May – 2 July, followed by a new music-filled version of Dodie Smith’s beloved 101 Dalmatians from 12 July – 28 August. The season will end on a slightly more sombre note with a blistering retelling of the epic Greek tragedy Antigone from 3 – 24 September. 

openairtheatre.com

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The Globe

Brits have loved open-air theatre since the 17th-century, as the perennially popular Globe on the London’s Southbank can attest to. Mere metres away from the site of Shakespeare’s original theatre, this faithful reconstruction of the celebrated playhouse offers a fine history lesson as well as a brilliant place to watch some of the Bard’s best-loved plays. Highlights from this summer season include renowned stage actor Kathryn Hunter bringing King Lear to a new generation from 10 June – 24 July, a raucous garden party version of Much Ado About Nothing from 10 May – 23 October and a startlingly up-to-date version of Julius Caesar from 11 May – 10 September. 

shakespearesglobe.com

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Shakespeare in the Squares

Ever wondered what lies behind the locked gates of London’s most exclusive private squares? Now’s your chance to get a peek inside while enjoying a dose of culture in the process. Taking place in some of the most beautiful private gardens in the capital, including Cleveland Square in Notting Hill, Paultons Square in Chelsea and Cornwall Gardens in South Kensington, past productions have included bucolic versions of Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It, while this year they’re staging The Tempest from 15 June to 8 July. Keep your eyes peeled for Dame Judi Dench, who’s a long-time fan and patron of the production company. 

shakespeareinthesquares.co.uk

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Minack Theatre

Arguably the best-known and most spectacular open-air theatre in the UK – if not the world – the Minack is dramatically perched on the cliffs of Penzance, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Built by hand by local theatre enthusiast Rowena Cade, who carved the auditorium’s terraced seating from the rock of her cliff-top garden, this year the theatre is celebrating its 90th anniversary, with an exhibition, This Rough Magic, dedicated to telling the story of their first performance in 1932. Open from February through to September, a plethora of different events take place here over the year, from stand-up by Russell Brand to performances by all-male choirs. This year’s dramatic highlights include Jane Eyre from 5 – 9 June and Vanity Fair from 3 – 7 July.  

minack.com

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Thorington Theatre

Tucked away among the pine trees in the Suffolk countryside you’ll find the Thorington Theatre, a delightful outdoor auditorium that has been crafted entirely from timber coppiced from the surrounding woodland. Opened last summer, the theatre is home to an eclectic programme, which includes bringing together community Shakespeare troupes, professional touring theatre companies and big-name comedians. They pride themselves on having something different on almost every night – this year, you can expect live opera from Proms in the Woods on 2 June, Much Ado About Nothing on 4 June and Stand Up Under the Stars – where previous acts have included Sara Pascoe, Simon Amstell and Nina Conti – from 16 – 18 June. 

thoringtontheatre.co.uk

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Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Every summer, the sweeping lawns and leafy promenades of Grosvenor Park in Chester play host to a pop-up open-air auditorium, a hit with both locals and visitors alike who come for their family-friendly productions and to discover exciting new writers (there’s a big emphasis on emerging playwrighting talent here). This year’s shows include Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet from 1 July – 28 August, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women from 8 July – 29 August and a critically acclaimed production of the children’s favourite Stig of the Dump from 22 July – 29 August. Bring a gourmet picnic and a bottle of fizz – the sound of corks popping usually accompanies the theatrics on stage.  

grosvenorparkopenairtheatre.co.uk

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Giffords Circus

Following on from the death of their beloved founder Nell Gifford in 2019, the much-lauded Giffords Circus is back with a brand-new show, Carpa. This summer sees them embark on their biggest UK tour to date, with performances taking place on farms in the Cotswolds, the grounds of Blenheim Palace and a stint at Neo-Palladian gem Chiswick House and Gardens in West London from 16 – 27 June. Running until 2 October, the show has been designed to evoke the sights and sounds of rural Mexico, with the award-winning sets, costumes and performers – ranging from trapeze artists, jugglers and acrobats – we’ve come to expect, as well as plenty of the usual Giffords Circus magic. 

giffordscircus.com

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