There are few things more enjoyable on a sunny summer day or warm evening than catching some of the best open air theatre London has to offer. There are lots of great shows and much of it is free to watch, so you can spend your money on ice cream instead!
Here’s our pick of the best open air theatre London has for you this summer:
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (Until 15 September)
The Open Air Theatre is surely one of London’s most beautiful venues. Stroll through picturesque Regent’s Park to find the theatre nestled away, its stage flanked by towering trees. On a warm summer evening, as the breeze whispers through the leaves, there are few finer places to watch a show.
Once famed for its Shakespearean productions, since Timothy Sheader became artistic director in 2007, the theatre has built a reputation for fantastic musical revivals. Its pre-show barbecue is also fantastic. This year, it stages Peter Pan, The Turn Of The Screw, As You Like It, Little Shop Of Horrors and Dinosaur World Live.
Underbelly Festival at South Bank (Until 30 September)
Celebrating its 10th birthday in London this year, the Underbelly Festival is now so synonymous with summer that it would be impossible not to mention it. Strictly speaking, this festival doesn’t have an open air theatre but the bars and food stalls around the pop-up performance spaces are entirely open to the elements. So have a beer, a Pimm’s or a lemonade in the sunshine, before heading inside to see the best in cabaret, circus and comedy.
Shakespeare’s Globe (Until 14 October)
An iconic sight on the banks of the Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe is a unique venue. A recreation of the theatre in which Shakespeare’s plays were originally staged, you can pay just £5 to stand as a groundling to see a show. Of course, you can spend a bit more and sit as well.
There’s everything from classic Shakespearean productions to brand-new plays on offer. And though The Globe has a reputation for “original practices” productions, more recently it has taken chances with new ideas. It always plays with the audience and has fun with its versatile space. This year it stages productions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, As You Like It, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Winter’s Tale, Othello and Love’s Labour’s Lost, as well as new plays Emilia and Eyam.
Opera Holland Park (29 May to 28 July)
Another venue in the middle of a gorgeous park, Holland Park also boasts the atmospheric ruins of Holland House, which was bombed during the Blitz.
In the summer, a temporary canopy is hoisted to create a venue that seats 1,000. Inside, Opera Holland Park, which has its own internationally acclaimed orchestra, stages a host of fantastic musical productions. This year’s summer season includes La traviata, Cosi fan tutte, Isabeau, Ariadne auf Naxos and performances by the Royal Ballet School.
Battersea Arts Centre’s Summer In The Courtyard (7 June to 27 July)
For a couple of months, Battersea’s influential, innovative arts centre allows audiences into its intimate, open air courtyard to enjoy theatre, comedy, spoken word, poetry and music. This is the place to be if you want to be the first to see new work this summer.
BP Big Screens (12 June, 26 June and 12 July)
Experience a performance by The Royal Opera or The Royal Ballet in the sunshine. Productions of Swan Lake, La bohème and Don Giovanni are streamed to massive screens across London and the UK. These include Canary Wharf’s Canada Square, Trafalgar Square and Hammersmith’s Lyric Square. Bring a picnic and enjoy a night of free culture.
West End LIVE (16 to 17 June)
West End LIVE features the best musicals that London’s Theatreland has to offer performed live in Trafalgar Square. And it’s FREE. There’s much more besides: the world-famous square is lined with stalls and attractions, but the heart of the action are the performances given by the biggest musical theatre stars around. Tip: get there early to secure your spot, as the queue is usually long.
Shakespeare In The Squares (20 June to 12 July)
Rather than sticking to one location, Shakespeare In The Squares visits many places in the capital over three weeks. This year, it brings Shakespeare’s forest-set As You Like It to London squares such as Queen’s Park, St James’s Gardens and Connaught Square.
Iris Theatre at St Paul’s Church (21 June to 3 September)
Hidden away in the middle of Covent Garden is a real gem. St Paul’s Church, also known as The Actors’ Church, is an oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of the city. Every summer since 2007 it has given its peaceful garden over to Iris Theatre to present a pair of open air shows. This year In 2018, it’s staging Shakespeare’s tale of sorcery and spirits The Tempest, and swashbuckling adventure The Three Musketeers.
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (21 June to 7 July)
Find more free theatre during this two-week celebration of drama, dance, music and street arts. Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) has brought performance to locations across Greenwich, Docklands and Tower Hamlets since 1996. It prides itself on pushing the boundaries of outdoor performance. This year’s event includes more than a light installation involving more than 1,500 pigeons flying above the Thames, a dance piece inspired by Icarus, and a revival of Jonathan Harvey’s iconic play Beautiful Thing.
River Stage Festival at National Theatre (28 July to 28 August)
As the sun shines on the South Bank during the summer months, the area outside the National Theatre comes alive with performance. For five weekends, a variety of acts take to the exposed stage to give short performances throughout the day. Pop by and you could see anything from circus performers to DJs, dancers to drag acts. The weekends are curated by The Glory, HOME Manchester, Sadler’s Wells, Nonclassical and the National Theatre in 2018.
The Scoop (8 August to 2 September)
Every summer, The Scoop hosts a season of free theatre, which don’t need to be booked in advance. Just stroll down the river from Tower Bridge and see a show. But be careful: since launching in 2003, The Scoop and its shows have grown in popularity, so arrive early to make sure you get a seat. This year, it’s staging magical musical The Wizard Of Oz and the mythical tale of King Arthur.
Outdoor theatre happens all year round in Covent Garden, where street performers are a regular sight. Lunchtime and early evening are peak times for performers, though they wow the crowds with their stupendous skills throughout the day. See everything from juggling and acrobatics, to magic and music. While stopping to watch is entirely free, if you enjoy yourself it’s customary to give the performer a little something at the end of their show. We mean money, obviously.