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There are many things in life which are a lottery – there’s the Lottery for one, and then there’s deciding which queue to join at the supermarket checkout, and apparently calling an election when you’re twenty points ahead in the polls is now one too. But above all of those, one of the trickiest things to predict on the whole planet must be the British weather, and yet despite this we remain stoically optimistic about it. Shouts of bar-b-que summers and record breaking droughts are never far away from the tabloid headline writer’s fingertips come late spring and, despite none of these things ever coming to pass, we nevertheless believe the claims of these ‘seers’ like Agamemnon on the way to Troy and duly load up with enough flip-flops and charcoal to satisfy an army of fakirs.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love this wilful blindness. It’s part of that aspect of our national character that people categorise as ‘the stiff upper-lip.’ And without it there’d be no outdoor theatre. Think about it for a moment; which other nation, faced with years of evidence of summer downpours and occasional June snow-flurries would persist in planning long tours of outdoor productions? And the great thing is that the number of productions grows every year.
Now I know that you’re thinking, that not even the comfiest blanket in the world, nor the finest chilled Sauvignon Blanc could entice you to spend three hours having iambic pentameter spouted at you by some bearded thesb in a codpiece. Well, the Bard-phobes amongst you can rejoice, as I don’t believe there’s ever been more non-Shakespearean outdoor theatre to choose from and to prove it here’s a selection of some which are gracing some beautiful East Anglian locations this summer.
Wind in the Willows has been a summer favourite for a few years now but that’s because it is a brilliant story, full of laughs and adventure, which any age can enjoy. Chapterhouse Theatre will be presenting Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad this summer and you can catch it at Ely Cathedral on the 1st July, Melford Hall on the 21st, Holkham Hall on the 23rd of August and in the very appropriate surroundings of Flatford Mill on the 26th, which is the Saturday of the August Bank Holiday. In addition to Willows, Chapterhouse will also be bringing Peter Pan to Lynford Hall in Mundford, Norfolk, on July 26th and Pride and Prejudice to Audley End on the 15th August.
Holkham Hall has become a favoured location for touring companies in recent years and three non-Shakespeare productions pitch up there in August. Alice in Wonderland pops up from the rabbit hole on 2nd before the seasoned Illyria don The Emperor’s New Clothes on the 9th. A new production on me, although one which is bound to be a popular one, is Billionaire Boy, which is at Holkham on the 16th. David Walliams’ stories are unbelievably popular with schoolchildren and I imagine this will be a huge hit. There are two further opportunities to catch Illyria in the altogether as The Emperor’s New Clothes will also be on show in beautiful Hatfield Forest on July 6th and the equally scenic Epping Forest on the afternoon of August 10th, when they’ll also be performing Pride & Prejudice in the evening.
Another new addition to the summer menu, as far as I’m aware, is The Lost World. Conan Doyle’s Edwardian tale of handlebar moustaches, pith-helmets and dinosaurs sounds like a dead-cert to be an absolute hoot when presented as a tongue-in-cheek outdoor production. I have no prior what so ever but imagine the ‘special’ effects at a show of this sort will be a papier-mâché joy to behold. You’ll have to travel a little to meet Professor Challenger and Lord Roxton as they’re in Knebworth on July 13th and Peterborough on August 26th, but I’ve little doubt that your effort would be rewarded with laughs.
Performance times and ticket prices are available via either the venues’ or the companies’ websites. Sitting on a blanket, sipping something cold and nibbling something tasty whilst someone entertains you is one of life’s quiet delights. And if the weather is less than clement? Well, pop the brolly up, switch to the hip-flask and remember you’re British – oh, and don’t bother buying a lottery ticket that weekend.