Preview: Outdoor theatre

Stuart Holmes rounds up the best in children’s outdoor theatre across the north

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As the seasons change for the better, live theatre relocates outdoors, allowing families to experience performances together during the school holidays. This summer will showcase a range of classic children’s tales being reimagined by established production companies, seeing their words leap off the page and on to the stage.

The Dukes in Lancaster will return to Williamson Park with a walkabout production of Oliver Twist (3 July–15 August). This new adaptation from Coronation Street writer Debbie Oates brings Dickens’s characters to life with a northern twist and finds Chorley’s Josie Cerise as a female Artful Dodger. “The thought of relocating this famous story from London is intriguing,” says The Dukes artistic director, Joe Sumsion. “I doubt there will ever have been a version quite like this one.”

The park will also host a single performance of Twisted (7 July), a short reworking of the same story by the Alternative Outcomes theatre company – a cast of homeless people who use the nearby Lancaster District Homeless Action Service.

Wind in the Willows (11 July–23 August) is the fitting story being told at Grosvenor Park, Chester. Audiences will see Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger journey through wild woods, sharing a picnic by the riverbank with their followers along the way. The performance is suitable for all ages and tickets for under-12s are free.

Disney’s Frozen has reinvigorated enthusiasm for sing-a-longs and the Cambridge Touring Theatre gives a timeless tale the tuneful treatment with Robin Hood: The Musical (17 July). In Castle Howard, York, it’ll provide a display of song, dance and comedy as the story’s hero tries to overthrow the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham. The performance is one of several stops in the north on an extensive tour of prestigious venues.

Sheffield Botanical Gardens marks the spot for an anarchic retelling of Treasure Island (29 July) from the Pantaloons Theatre Company, which has just three actors playing 20 characters. Although the crew on deck may be minimal, the show promises maximum entertainment. “We cannot wait for audiences to see our take on this adventure story,” says writer and director Mark Hayward. “We’ve got music, audience interaction, swordfights and plenty of mayhem.”

“We take well-loved stories and give them a contemporary twist.”

The company takes a playful approach to classic works, having previously performed Sherlock Holmes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales in a similar fashion.

Hayward adds: “We take well-loved stories and give them a contemporary twist, making them accessible for new audiences and showing seasoned fans something that they perhaps had not seen in them before.”

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (22 August) will find Liverpool’s Exchange Flags transformed into a magical Indian jungle by the Chapterhouse Theatre Company. The World Heritage-listed backdrop will play host to outdoor theatre for the first time. Children are invited to dress up in their favourite animal costume and join in the Jungle Parade during the interval.

Lytham Hall is the spectacular setting for Illyria’s touring performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (23 August). The production promises a delight for the senses, with smells and explosions being central to the magic within the tale. The gates to the country house grounds open two hours before show time, which will hopefully allow spectators to soak up the sun as well as the atmosphere.

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