Our history

With one of the largest auditoria in London, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is the oldest, professional, permanent outdoor theatre in Britain and our annual 16-week season is attended by over 140,000 each year.

Heritage Project

The theatre is currently embarking on a project to make records from the theatre’s production history available to everyone by creating a digital collection. For more information, please click here.

Filter timeline to show:

  • 1932
    1932

    The early closure of a disastrous play by Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, left the New Theatre - now the Noel Coward - in desperate need of a production. Robert Atkins and Sydney Carroll present a ‘black and white’ production of Twelfth Night, which they subsequently transfer to a makeshift theatre in Regent’s Park.

  • 1933
    1933

    The first full season includes a revival of the previous year’s Twelfth Night and the first of almost fifty different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to play at the theatre over the next eighty years.

  • 1934

    George Bernard Shaw writes The Six of Calais for the theatre.

  • 1934
    1934

    Jack Hawkins and Anna Neagle star as Orsino and Olivia in Twelfth Night. Robert Helpmann dances in an ‘al fresco’ ballet.

  • 1936
    1936

    Vivien Leigh plays Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII.

  • 1939
    1939

    The country is at war and the theatre produces matinee-only seasons due to the blackouts. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the Windmill Theatre are the only two theatres in London to remain open throughout the war.

  • 1942

    Dulcie Gray and Michael Bentine join the company for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twefth Night and The Taming of the Shrew.

  • 1945-1955

    Post-war comedies dominate the programme but are balanced with King John (1948), Faust (1949), The Winter’s Tale (1950) and Cymbeline (1952).

  • 1949

    Brick dressing rooms are built behind the stage, replacing the tents that had been used previously.

  • 1953

    Eileen Atkins appears as an attendant in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

  • 1956

    The company are invited to perform Twelfth Night and Hamlet at the Baalbek Festival in Lebanon. This marks the first of many Open Air Theatre overseas engagements; over the following years, in conjunction with the British Council, the company would perform in over twenty different countries including Dubai, Russia, Israel and Egypt.

  • 1962
    1962

    David Conville and David William establish The New Shakespeare Company as a non-profit distributing charitable company. Laurence Olivier is one of the key investors.

  • 1964

    The theatre’s production of Twelfth Night plays at Middle Temple Hall as part of the City of London Festival in the presence of HM The Queen Mother.

  • 1968
    1968

    Bernard Bresslaw plays Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Bresslaw’s long association with the theatre sees him playing Bottom many times and Dogberry twice, as well as Malvolio, Petkoff and Ferrovius, until his untimely death in 1993 just before going on stage to play Grumio.

  • 1970
    1970

    Felicity Kendal plays Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.

  • 1971

    In a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Anthony Andrews plays Mustardseed.

  • 1974
    1974

    The current, fixed amphitheatre-style, auditorium is built at the cost of £150,000 followed by a workshop, a new box office, kitchen and picnic lawn. Delays in the building project cause the following season, which includes The Taming of the Shrew with Jeremy Irons and Zoë Wannamaker, to be staged at the Roundhouse.

  • 1976
    1976

    Robert Stephens, who had appeared the previous year in a production of The Zoo Story with Michael Gambon, stars alongside Edward Fox in Othello.

  • 1976
    1976

    Judi Dench appears alongside Penelope Keith and Dame Flora Robson in Sweet Mister Shakespeare. Dench’s long association with the theatre sees her both perform and direct on many occasions. She joins the Board of Trustees in 1993 and remains on the board today.

  • 1979
    1979

    A School Workshops Scheme is launched and becomes a permanent feature of the venue.

  • 1981
    1981

    Kate O’Mara appears in Much Ado About Nothing. O’Mara would appear again in The Merry Wives of Windsor, three years later.

  • 1982
    1982

    To celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the theatre a special evening is presented with HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in attendance.

  • 1983

    Lesley Garrett appears in a double bill of English 18th Century Operas; Thomas & Sally and Rosina.

  • 1983

    Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre produces its first musical, Bashville written by the then Artistic Director David William.

  • 1984

    Richard E. Grant appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Natasha Richardson.

  • 1985
    1985

    Ralph Fiennes makes his professional debut as Curio in Twelfth Night. A year later he would return to play Romeo to Sarah Woodward’s Juliet in a production directed by Declan Donellan.

  • 1987

    Ian Talbot, makes his debut as Artistic Director with a production of Bartholomew Fair, which uses boar pigs borrowed from London Zoo.

  • 1987

    Caroline Smith’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream earns the theatre its first Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Comedy of the Year.

  • 1990
    1990

    The season musical sees Roy Hudd and Anthony O’Donnell star in The Fantasticks.

  • 1991
    1991

    Judi Dench directs The Boys from Syracuse, which is nominated for four Laurence Oliver Awards, winning Best Musical Revival and Best Supporting Actress for Jenny Galloway.

  • 1994
    1994

    Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh finances The Card which is nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards.

  • 1994
    1994

    Tim Piggott-Smith directs Damian Lewis in Hamlet.

  • 1995
    1995

    Toyah Wilcox plays Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by John Doyle.

  • 1997
    1997

    Kiss Me Kate is nominated for three Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Revival.

  • 1997

    All’s Well that Ends Well makes its first appearance at the theatre with Nigel Planer as Parolles.

  • 1999

    The final season of the Century sees Rachel Kavanaugh direct The Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Night. To close the season, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum marks the first appearance of a Sondheim musical at the theatre.

  • 2000
    2000

    At the cost of two million pounds, major building work commences to refurbish the auditorium and public areas of the theatre and to build the Robert Atkins Studio.

  • 2000-2001
    2000-2001

    Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance plays for two seasons before going on a UK tour with Gary Wilmot and Su Pollard.

  • 2002
    2002

    A star-studded 70th Anniversary concert is hosted by Judi Dench and Ian Talbot.

  • 2003
    2003

    High Society is nominated at the Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Supporting Actress for Tracie Bennett. After a UK tour the production transfers into the West End’s Shaftsbury Theatre at the end of 2005.

  • 2004
    2004

    Russ Abbott plays Bottom in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  • 2005

    Timothy Sheader makes his Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre debut directing Twelfth Night.

  • 2006
    2006

    Ian Talbot revives his 2003 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which includes Sheridan Smith amongst the cast.

  • 2007
    2007

    Timothy Sheader is appointed as Artistic Director, joining William Village, who had been appointed Executive Director and Co-Chief Executive the previous year. Sheader’s first season, in 2008, sees him direct Romeo and Juliet and Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi which stars Topol.

  • 2008
    2008

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream re-imagined for everyone aged six and over is the first of many successful Shakespeare plays specially adapted for younger audiences.

  • 2009
    2009

    The Importance of Being Earnest is introduced as the first non-Shakespeare play to be produced at the theatre for several years and plays to 96.5% capacity. Hello, Dolly! wins the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical and is nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards, winning Best Musical Revival, Best Theatre Choreography for Stephen Mear, and Best Actress in a Musical for Samantha Spiro.

  • 2010

    Fundraising commences for a building project that will see a new box office, dressing room complex and office suite to be built on site, in time for the 2012 season.

  • 2010

    Stephen Sondheim visits the theatre twice to see Into The Woods. Oliver Ford Davies plays Danforth in The Crucible, directed by Timothy Sheader.

  • 2010
    2010

    Timothy Sheader directs Sondheim’s Into the Woods which becomes the highest grossing production in the history of the theatre and earns two Olivier Award nominations, winning Best Musical Revival.

  • 2011
    2011

    Jon Bausor designs an epic set for Lord of the Flies directed by Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel. Lucy Bailey makes her directorial debut at the Park with a Hogarthian production of The Beggar's Opera. Winning 2 Olivier Awards (Best Musical Revival and Best Costume Design) Crazy for You becomes the highest grossing production at the theatre and transfers directly into the West End for a 6 month run.

  • 2012
    2012

    The theatre’s 80th anniversary and the year of the London Olympics. At a cost of £3.3m, the theatre re-development project is completed.

  • 2012
    2012

    Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel re-direct their 2010 production of Into The Woods in Central Park, New York.

  • 2013
    2013

    Making his first London appearance in 22 years, Robert Sean Leonard receives critical acclaim as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Jane Asher appears as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, which celebrates its 200th anniversary.

  • 2013
    2013

    Rachel Kavanaugh returns to direct a sell-out and extended run of The Sound of Music starring Charlotte Wakefield as Maria. With over 188,000 visitors the season breaks all records.

  • 2014
    2014

    New seats are installed in the auditorium for the first time since 1974. To Kill a Mockingbird returns to conclude the 2014 season ahead of a UK tour.