Stage is set for alfresco drama

Rachel BullerFrom grand productions in front of stately homes to fun in city parks - there is something for everyone to enjoy as the outdoor theatre season kicks off in the region, says Rachel Buller.Rachel Buller

It's that time of year again, when we pack up our picnic baskets and keep our fingers crossed for sunshine as we settle down for some great outdoor theatre.

Over the past few years, an exciting and ambitious outdoor programme has become integral to the region's summer arts calendar. And it's not just the traditional productions, like Shakespeare, which are dominating the season.

Providing accessible and fun theatre for children who might not necessarily visit the theatre has become a key part of the work that Norwich City Council does as part of its summer events programme.

This year, across three of the city's parks, there are free activities and shows aimed at children aged from three upwards. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the summer there will be children's theatre performed at Castle Green, Waterloo Park and Eaton Park.


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This year there are five very different shows: The Magic Circus, by the Magic Carpet Theatre group, Goldilocks and How Many Bears? by The Krazy Kat Theatre Company, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, performed by Openwide Theatre, Raisa and the Baba Yaga, by Pendle Productions, and Pass the Bucket by the Foolhardy Circus Clowns.

For the Goldilocks show, children are encouraged to bring their own bears.

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The city council is also putting on a Punch and Judy Tour every Tuesday and Thursday from July 28 to August 27. The shows will be visiting 20 neighbourhoods with two shows a day in different areas.

Helen Selleck, events manager for Norwich City Council, said: 'I think one of the attractions of outdoor theatre is that you are not confined to a building and if you don't want to stay you can go, its pretty relaxed, with no airs and graces.'

For further details visit www.norwich.gov.uk, email events@norwich.gov.uk or call the events information line on 01603 212626. The children's theatre always starts at 3pm at Waterloo Park and Castle Green and 11am at Eaton Park. For Crude Apache shows, see www.crudeapache.co.uk

For those seeking a little more sophistication and a grander setting, the National Trust uses a number of its properties as atmospheric backdrops. Alice in Wonderland, performed by the Cambridge Touring Theatre, promises lots of laughs. It will be at Oxburgh Hall, near Swaffham on Friday July 3 and Peckover House, near Wisbech on July 4, where jam tarts and a Mad Hatter's tea party menu will also be available. Both start at 6pm.

To mark 2009 being the 500th anniversary of the succession of Henry VIII, the Distraction Theatre Company rewrites history with its own amusing take on the monarch as he searches for love in The Merry Wives of Henry VIII. The play will be at Oxburgh Hall on July 17, at 7.30pm, with gates opening at 6pm.

Shakespeare is a key feature of the National Trust's programme. As You Like It will be performed at Oxburgh Hall by the Heartbreak Theatre Comedy this Friday, at 7.30pm, with gates open from 6pm; Twelfth Night, performed by The Lord Chamberlain's Men, will be brought to life in traditional Shakespearean style with an all-male cast at Blickling Hall, near Aylsham, on June 20, at Oxburgh Hall on August 20 - both start at 7.30pm - and at Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds on July 25 at 7pm, with gates open at 6pm.

Further details: www.nationaltrust.org.uk or phone 01284 747500.

Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, will be the setting for A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed by the award-winning company Illyria, on July 25, beginning at 7pm, with gates opening at 6pm.

The Rain or Shine Theatre Company will bring its adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew to Holkham Hall, on July 26 starting at 7pm. Information from www.rainorshine.co.uk, or call 01452 521575 or 07774 852644.

And finally, don't forget Norwich Cathedral will be home to a special four-day Shakespeare festival between July 16 and 19, with Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing performed in the historical setting of the cloisters. Although all four nights of the festival, which is being run in association with the EDP, have sold out, it is worth checking for any returns. Call the cathedral shop on 01603 218323; Norwich Theatre Royal on 01603 630000; the EDP on 01603 772175; and online at www.britishshakespeare.com

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