Open air Shakespeare is about having an entertaining afternoon/evening out, as much as it is about searching out that brilliant performance of Shakespearean production. Of course when going to any theatre, there is a hope it will be entertaining, but open air Shakespeare brings with it all the ritual of what you do before and during the performance. Armed with picnic and low backed chairs, the experience is about finding a nice spot to settle down eat food and get a good view of the performance and the surroundings in which the performance takes place.
There are some tips to consider when embarking on open air Shakespeare. Make sure you have layers of clothes to put on as the night gets colder (if it is at night). Don’t get envious of other people’s food. You’ve got enough and other people are as envious as you are. There’s no need to wish that you’d got an endless supply of alcohol, as you see ofter people opening bottle after bottle, because there are always fewer toilets at open air Shakespeare than other theatres (and ladies will know that’s saying something).
Open air Shakespeare can be wonderful if the sun is out, but if it rains, it might make the storm scene in The Tempest feel realistic, but sitting watching Shakespeare getting drenched can really make you feel that you are suffering for art. This is often the risk you take when buying your tickets and hoping the day will be beautiful. The benefits are clearly the fresh air and the nature around you. As well as actors there is often a cast of birds anf bats taking part.
Open air Shakespeare tends to play safe with the text, the sets are minimal so it would be unusual to get some of the thoughtful designs in the major theatre such as Tom Piper sets. The open air Shakespeare has the advantage of the settings and can use the space in different ways.
We saw an interesting use of space in The Comedy of Errors at Ripley Castle (Globe Company)and The Tempest in York’s Library Gardens the night after (Sprite). There were the usual jokes around audience members and Dromio (Miltos Yerolemou) got laughs as he pinched food from the members of the audience. The cast of The Tempest made entrances and exits from different areas of the gardens.
In both productions the two companies made much of doubling up. You could argue that Sprite overdid this with most of the cast taking turns to play Ariel and often in unison. The Globe company used one actor to play Antipholus (Ronan Raftery) and Dromio. The Syracusians look like tourists and wear glasses, the others don’t. This worked extremely well and made the last scene really funny. Indeed, in the final scene all the doubling up worked well in getting laughs.
We went to watch The Tempest and it stayed very nice for the actual storm, but there was a little drizzle later on. For The Comedy of Errors, it stayed dry but got really chilly later on. Good Shakespeare and a great night out.