Balmy summer nights are coming; it’s time to take the risk and book for one of the many open air plays coming to a garden or a field near you
Like food and music, theatre in the open air is always special. Dorset’s lucky to have some of the best venues and a strong reputation of touring outdoor productions in the summer months. Some of them are really worth making a longer trip to see.
As always, Shakespeare is high on the list of productions, but several companies have chosen newer shows, and even a couple of original plays written specially for summer 2023. Most are in the evening, but there are some daytime performances for younger members of the family. Audiences are usually encouraged to take low backed chairs (so as not to spoil the view for the people behind) or rugs, and picnics are to be eaten before the action starts or in the interval – not during the performance!
Fifteen of the touring companies are coming to, or quite near to, The BV’s area. All you have to do is to book early to avoid disappointment and send up a prayer to the weather gods for a warm, dry night!
One of the best-established companies, Chapterhouse, brings The Importance of Being Earnest to Holme for Gardens near Wareham on 30th July. The company is also touring Sense and Sensibility, coming to the same venue on 7th August and then to Stourhead on 27th and 28th August. In between, the Chapterhouse production of The Secret Garden comes to Stourhead on 22nd and 23rd August.
Festival Players’ 2023 summer tour is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, coming to Shaftesbury Abbey on 24th June and Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens on 26th June. It will be performed at Speeds Farm, Lamyatt (near Bruton) on 8th July and the beautiful Meerhay Manor at Beaminster on 27th August.
Folksy Theatre has two touring plays, Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. The Merry Wives is at the ECOS Amphitheatre in Frome on 2nd August, overlooking Lyme Bay at the Marine in Lyme Regis on 3rd, and at Holme for Gardens near Wareham on 11th August. The little duck who turned out to be a swan is at Holme for Gardens on Saturday 5th August, at 3pm.
The all male troupe that specialises in travelling between venues on bicycles, is touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year, stopping at the Roman Villa at Rockbourne on 21st June, Maumbury Rings in Dorchester on 23rd and the Marine Theatre at Lyme Regis on 24th.
This summer Heartbreak has three shows on tour. The Shakespeare medley, MacHamLear, comes to Holme for Gardens near Wareham on 19th July, Bad Dad, the David Walliams adaptation, comes to Maumbury Rings in Dorchester on 2nd August, Corfe Castle on 3rd and Somerset Cider Brandy at Kingsbury Episcopi on 4th August. Sense and Sensibility is at Maumbury Rings on 18th August.
The Last Baguette
The Last Baguette is touring the original show Pandora’s Box, coming to the Millennium Green in Bridport on 3rd August, to Winterborne Stickland on 16th and the Marine Theatre at Lyme Regis on 17th August.
Another of the longest-established touring companies, Illyria has three productions this year, Twelfth Night, Robin Hood and Pride and Prejudice. The Shakespeare play of mistaken identity and love is at Castle Gardens in Sherborne on 5th July, and at the ECOS Amphitheatre in Frome on 3rd September. Robin Hood is at Kingston Lacy near Wimborne on 3rd August, and Jane Austen’s ever popular romance is at Castle Gardens, Sherborne on 14th July and Frome ECOS on 14th, as well as in the extraordinary setting of Corfe Castle on 10th August.
Lord Chamberlains Men
The all-male Lord Chamberlains Men are performing the world’s greatest love story, Romeo and Juliet, on tour this summer. See them in June at Glastonbury Abbey (7th), Lyme Regis Marine (8th) or Rack Close in Salisbury Cathedral Close on 9th and 10th. They will also be performing at Kingston Lacy on 27th July and at Breamore House on 26th August.
The Pantaloons is another company with three tours on the road for 2023. They will be performing Jane Austen’s Emma at Wells’ Bishop’s Palace on 3rd August, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Midelney Manor near Langport on 4th August and at Wells Bishop’s Palace on 9th August. Shakespeare’s Antipholus and Dromio will be playing out their Comedy of Errors at Rockbourne Roman Villa on 20th July and at Montacute House near Yeovil the following night.
The summer touring trio from Quantum Theatre is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wind in the Willows and The Tales of Peter Rabbit. The Dream is at the ECOS, Frome on 11th June and Glastonbury Rural Life Museum on 15th August. The Wind in the Willows will be performed alongside the Avon at the Wardrobe Rifles Museum in Salisbury Cathedral Close on 25th July, and Peter will be soporifically searching for lettuce at the Salisbury museum on 10th August and at Corfe Castle on 24th August.
Rain or Shine
There’s another outing for Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors with Rain or Shine, the company whose weather policy is in the name. They will be at All Saints School in Montacute on 30th June, Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury on 7th July, Upper Leigh Farm in East Knoyle on 21st July, the Roman Villa at Rockbourne on 10th August and Prince Albert Gardens in Swanage on 14th August.
The Rude Mechanicals
The company whose style is Commedia del’Arte and which always brings an original show, Rude Mechanicals has devised the tale of Miss Popplewell’s Garden for 2023. See it in June at the Square and Compass, Worth Matravers (9th), Abbey House in Abbotsbury (10th) and on the Village Hall Field at Stourpaine on 29th. In July it will be performed at East Farm, Tarrant Monkton (20th), Mill Farm at Bradford Abbas (21st) and Child Okeford Recreation Ground on 22nd.
The spin-off of The Handlebards, Slapstick Picnic exchanges bicycles for an English afternoon tea, and has chosen Peter Pan for this year’s show. See it at the Larmer Tree at Tollard Royal on 20th July, Maumbury Rings in Dorchester on 22nd and the Marine at Lyme Regis on 23rd July.
Three Inch Fools
The troupe of actor-musicians Three Inch Fools has two shows this year, Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Robin Hood. Follow the adventures of Rosalind and Orlando in the Forest of Arden at Beaminster Manor on 11th June, Upton Country Park near Poole on 16th August and Stourhead on 25th August. Robin Hood will be in Nottingham Forest at Higher Orchard, Sandford Orcas on 15th August, Corfe Castle (great setting!) on 17th August and Stourhead gardens on 26th August.
One of the newer companies, Troubadour Stageworks also has two productions on tour – The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet. See the world’s most famous lovers at Hatch House in West Hatch on 10th June and Bush Farm at West Knoyle on 9th September. Homer’s hero does his thing at Kingsettle Stud, Cholderton on 30th August.
- For more details of all these productions, go online to either the company or the venue, where all booking details should be available.