Outdoor theatre preview

Pack your sandwiches, prosecco, raincoats and camp chairs because the outdoor theatre season has begun

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Eternally optimistic about the weather, the British public head outdoors for their theatre-going this summer and come rain or shine the show will go on.

“There are quite a few challenges to performing outdoors, from the elements to peacocks wandering on stage and a chorus of mooing cows in neighbouring fields,” says Laura Turner, who’s adapted Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford for Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s annual outdoor production. “For the most part though this just adds to the atmosphere and the sense of the actors and audience all experiencing something unique together – each individual performance can never be replicated.”

Turner has adapted classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Little Women for the company, whose annual tour begins at Lytham Hall (16 June).

“Adapting classics is less a formula and more that I’ve developed a sense of what interests me,” she says. “It’s about seeking to capture the heart or essence of a story. It’s not possible to stay true to every single scene in a 300-page novel, so you have to select the moments and characters that speak to you and contribute to the overall message of the story. That’s the thing that captivates us as readers, and as viewers of a play.”

Fitting for the quintessentially English setting, Cranford is a satirical portrait of a rural community governed by old-fashioned habits and follows the lives of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances.

“Cranford is such a unique story of rural Victorian life and it is full to the brim with absolutely unforgettable female characters. There is so much comic potential in the novel and it was exciting to explore this in the play, with our cast of brilliant female actors,” says Turner. “The story captures the simplicity and the complexity of everyday life in a very soothing way that actually leads you to very meaningful realisations about the nature of friendship, love, romance and heartbreak.”

It’s one of six shows Chapterhouse is touring at outdoor venues this summer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pride and Prejudice, The Secret Garden, Treasure Island and Wuthering Heights all visit venues across the north, including Dunham Massey in Altrincham and Harewood House in Leeds. Lytham Hall will continue its outdoor programme throughout the summer too with performances of The Tempest, Frankenstein, Dan Leno A Royal Jester, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from Arabian Nights all programmed for July and August.

Elsewhere, Lancaster’s Williamson Park’s annual outdoor production is The Three Musketeers; Liverpool’s Imaginarium Theatre tours Romeo and Juliet in local parks and gardens; and Chester’s Grosvenor Park has performances of Twelfth Night, Henry V and The Borrowers.

For Turner outdoor theatre offers as many advantages as it does challenges.

“It’s a chance to really involve the audience in the production. It’s the whole experience. The play is always at the centre of that, but it’s about inviting audiences into a space for an evening or afternoon where they can exist in the moment and live through a story, the way the characters and actors on stage are. It’s about the picnics people enjoy before and during the show, the interaction with the characters during the interval and the surroundings of the wonderful venues and sites we visit.”

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