8 outdoor theatres you should visit this summer

An outdoor performance at Lytham Hall

An outdoor performance at Lytham Hall - Credit: not Archant

Audiences and performers are preparing for another season of spectacular outdoor theatre, writes Julian Wilde

An outdoor performance at Brantwood

An outdoor performance at Brantwood - Credit: not Archant

Lancashire’s glorious countryside will again provide a spectacular backdrop this year for one of the delights of every English summer – theatre in the open air.

From the parkland of Lytham Hall to Ruskin’s home at Brantwood overlooking the waters of Coniston, some of the Red Rose county’s most delightfully scenic spots are set to play host to open air companies. Add attractive leafy locations such as The Rock Garden at Edge Hill University, the historic Hoghton Tower near Preston, the timbered Rufford Old Hall and Lytham’s elegant Lowther Rose Gardens and you have a snapshot of the County Palatine in all its summer glory.

Lytham Hall, standing in 80 acres of restored parkland, typifies the venues. This Grade One Georgian mansion, built by Thomas Carr for the Clifton family, provides a comforting backdrop for open air performance.

The towering 200 year old beech trees and the welcome absence of traffic noise make it a delight both for actors and watchers. Lytham Hall regularly draws up to 500 for each of its four productions, most arriving two hours before the show armed with champagne and strawberries, folding chairs, clothing for all weathers and unbounded enthusiasm.

Meg Hargreaves from the Friends of Lytham Hall who help as volunteers to organise the open air season, believes that it is immediacy of the experience which audiences love.

‘The closeness of the stage and the ability of the cast to engage with their audience is an eye-opener. The unspoiled setting on a grass lawn, the light, sounds and smells of a summer evening and the skill of casts in ensuring that every word is heard make it a treat for all five senses.’

An outdoor performance at Lancaster's Williamson Park

An outdoor performance at Lancaster's Williamson Park - Credit: not Archant

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Illyria, one of the country’s longest-established outfits who are celebrating their 26th year on the road, will be bringing three plays to Lytham Hall in July and August – Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure story The Lost World, complete with dinosaurs, Gilbert and Sullivan favourite The Mikado and, as a family show, the Hans Christian Andersen fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Illyria’s artistic director Oliver Gray who tours his plays with separate casts to some 60 venues all over the country each summer feels that northern audiences in particular are warm and knowledgeable.

‘Lancastrians revel in the doubling up by the actors which is very much a part of outdoor performances and for our cast of five or six engaging with an audience is a positive treat whenever we are in the North West,’ he said.

Lancaster’s 30th promenade play in Williamson Park, Treasure Island, will run from July 4 to August 12. The dells, quarry, lake, terraces and the imposing Ashton Memorial provide ideal and diverse settings for the country’s largest walkabout production.

Whatever the play, the location or the company, every Lancashire audience this summer will find the actors always take a professional pride in their productions. They will be aiming to make every performance this summer – be it Shakespeare, David Walliams, Lewis Carroll or Jane Austen – a first hand experience of the highest quality, framed by some of the most beautiful settings Lancashire can offer.

Illyria prepare for another production

Illyria prepare for another production - Credit: not Archant

Diary dates

Lytham Hall, FY8 4JX

Great Expectations, Chapterhouse Theatre Company

Sunday June 11, 6pm

01253 736652, www.lythamhall.org.uk

The Rock Garden, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, L39 4QP

The Comedy of Errors, Illyria

Sunday July 2, 3.30pm

01695 584480, www.edgehill.ac.uk

Williamson Park, Lancaster, LA1 1UX

Treasure Island, Dukes Theatre

July 4-August 12

01524 598500, www.dukes-lancaster.org

Leighton Hall near Carnforth, LA5 9ST

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Festival Players

Friday July 21, 6pm

01524 734474, www.leightonhall.co.uk

Rufford Old Hall, Rufford, L40 1SG

As you Like It, Handlebards

Saturday July 22, 7pm

01704 821254, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rufford-old-hall

Hoghton Tower near Preston, PR5 OSH

Pride and Prejudice, Chapterhouse Theatre Company

Sunday August 6, 7pm

01 254 853986, www.hoghtontower.co.uk

Brockholes Nature Reserve, Preston, PR5 OAG

Billionaire Boy, Heartbreak Productions

Sunday August 13, 5pm

01 772 872000, www.brockholes.org

Brantwood, Coniston, LA21 8AD

The Emperor’s New Clothes, Illyria

Tuesday August 22, 7pm

01539 441396, www.brantwood.org.uk