Your Ultimate Guide to London’s Summer Outdoor Theatre
Make the most of the summer with the capital’s fantastic outdoor theatre offerings. From Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber to comedy and cabaret, check out all of the alfresco theatregoing options London has to offer.
It’s not truly summer without a trip to this very special Bankside theatre – a reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse built in 1599. Sitting on benches in the semi-circular gallery, or standing in the yard, you get a real sense of what it was like to be in Shakespeare’s audience when his work was first performed, with playing conditions mirroring the original environment.
The more intrepid should opt for standing, as actors often stride through the pit and interact with the “groundlings.” But you also get a great view of the action from the gallery – and you’re slightly more protected in inclement weather.
This summer, it’s all about history informing Britain’s present and future. Try the trio of “Henry IV” Parts 1 and 2, leading into “Henry V” – it’s like bingeing a boxset. There’s also comedy via “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Comedy of Errors,” and “As You Like It”, the sea voyaging adventure of “Pericles”, the carnival of “Bartholomew Fair” – and make your own selection with Audience Choice, where audience members vote on which show they want to see at the top of the play.
The Globe has notably good food, with a pre-theatre set menu at the Swan Restaurant, Dream-themed afternoon tea, and superb views over the Thames towards St Paul’s Cathedral.
Pro tip: Bring layers of clothing and/or a blanket in case it gets chilly later at night, and it’s worth renting a cushion to make the bench seating more comfortable.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
This gem of a venue, tucked away in north London’s picturesque park, has a spellbinding atmosphere as the light falls during an evening performance. You also get the occasional stage invasion by a friendly duck, which only adds to the charm.
Though it has over 1,000 seats in the raked auditorium, the configuration lends a sense of camaraderie – and the best shows play on that, with immersive action enveloping the audience.
It’s an inventive space for musicals, and that should continue with this summer’s version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita”; there’s particular excitement for Jamie Lloyd’s revival after a dynamic reinvention of “Jesus Christ Superstar” wowed the park in 2016. (That production is now playing at the Barbican).
But the show is just part of a perfect Regent’s Park trip. Many arrive early with hampers to picnic on the lawn, tuck into burgers at The Grill, sip Pimm’s at the fairy light-decorated bar, or enjoy a bowl of strawberries and cream.
Pro tip: The auditorium is open to the elements, so prepare for all eventualities – wet weather gear, but also sun hats and sun cream. But part of the joy of this theatre is that no two performances are the same, so embrace that live, alfresco experience.
Underbelly Festival Southbank
This vibrant festival is celebrating 11 years in the heart of London, bringing audiences a jam-packed programme comprised of the four Cs: comedy, circus, cabaret, and children’s entertainment. It’s a great place to catch a mixture of big names and up-and-coming talent, all vying for attention in specially built tents.
This year’s comedy line-up includes Lost Voice Guy, Tiff Stevenson, Abandoman, Sh!t-Faced Showtime, Mawaan Rizwan, and Basil Brush, while kids will love the expanded offering for family audiences, featuring CBeebies’ Twirlywoos, Shark in the Park, Monski Mouse, and The Showstoppers’ special kids’ edition of their inventive musical improv.
Cabaret and circus ranges from “The Carole King Story,” “The Soul Legends,” and “Swing Out!” to raucous fun via “Yummy,” “Club Briefs,” and “Mariah & Friendz” and fierce fashion at “Positive Runway Pride” – plus keep the party going at “Silent Disco”.
Underbelly is also a fab hangout spot between shows (all of which are short and sweet), with numerous food and drink stalls serving up everything from halloumi fries to sticky Vietnamese chicken wings and mac ‘n’ cheese croquettes.
Pro tip: get there early so you can wander the Southbank first, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying some of London’s most spectacular riverside views. And, of course, have time to sample all those great stalls. Check out our guide to Southbank here.