The pitfalls of open-air theatre

Putting on a play outdoors? What could possibly go wrong? We found out...

© Richard Davenport
Londoners, as a rule, are hopelessly ill equipped to deal with any atmospheric or emotional condition other than ‘light drizzle’. And yet, we remain in a persistent state of glorious denial of this fact – none more glorious than our outdoor theatres. With the Globe open for 2013 and the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre back next month, the cream of British alfresco talent share their war stories.

Mass faintings

Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe
‘Our piazza became a field hospital in 2006, when we produced “Titus Andronicus”. It was a thunderous and bloodthirsty production: when Lavinia walked slowly out with stumps for hands and spat her tongue from her bloody mouth, there would be a pause then a single splat, followed by a couple more and then a spate of them all round, as audience bodies dropped like ninepins in the yard and in the seats. Our first-aid room couldn’t cope since between 30 or 40 dropped each show, and several had to be taken to hospital. Bizarrely, tickets were moving quite slowly until word got out that attendance was a sort of gladiatorial blood sport in itself, and then they started flying out of the door.’

Accidental bushfires

Timothy Sheader, artistic director at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
‘During “The Importance of Being Earnest” there was a large mirror on stage as part of the set. One afternoon, the sun was shining down on it and it set fire to the grass – we had our very own bush fire!’

Insect attacks

Kat Joyce, Tangled Feet Theatre company, Theatre in the Square
‘One of our actors, John, stood on a bumblebee in the penultimate moment of the show (‘Inflation’) last year. It’s the moment when a bouncy castle collapses and I thought that John’s angst about the deflating castle looked strangely acute. It wasn’t until afterwards I found out he’d been stung on the sole of his bare foot so his silent scream of pain was in fact very very real.’

Getting rained on in full armour

Roger Allam, playing Prospero in ‘The Tempest’ at Shakespeare’s Globe this season
‘On the press night of “Henry IV, Part I” it poured. I entered as Falstaff in full armour, rain dripping off my helmet down my neck. You have to stand out under the rain as well, rather than under the roof, to show a bit of solidarity with the people in the yard. I was a bit pissed off so I did a bit of Lear – “blow winds and crack your cheeks”. It got a big laugh.’

The Olympics

Phil Willmott, Steam Industry Free Theatre, resident company at The Scoop
‘During last summer’s Olympics it was exhilaratingly like playing Greek drama in a war zone down by Tower Bridge; the world’s media helicoptered constantly and loudly overhead, James Bond passed noisily along the river to the stadium. The Shard’s opening-night laser show was our background.’

Drenched in a dress

Michelle Terry, playing Titania in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Shakespeare’s Globe this season
‘Umbrellas aren’t allowed at the Globe, unless you have a very expensive costume to protect. However, my dainty parasol in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” couldn’t quite cover the train on my dress. This provided much hilarity when I discovered that if you stood in one of the puddles on the raised walkways, and you got some real purchase on a hip twist, you could generate quite a swish, covering a large percentage of the audience with water. At any other venue that would be offensive but at the Globe it seemed rude not to.’

All sounding a bit risky? Try these outdoor options

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