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.
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.
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.
George Bernard Shaw writes The Six of Calais for the theatre.
Jack Hawkins and Anna Neagle star as Orsino and Olivia in Twelfth Night. Robert Helpmann dances in an ‘al fresco’ ballet.
Vivien Leigh plays Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII.
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.
Dulcie Gray and Michael Bentine join the company for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twefth Night and The Taming of the Shrew.
Post-war comedies dominate the programme but are balanced with King John (1948), Faust (1949), The Winter’s Tale (1950) and Cymbeline (1952).
Brick dressing rooms are built behind the stage, replacing the tents that had been used previously.
Eileen Atkins appears as an attendant in Love’s Labour’s Lost.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Felicity Kendal plays Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.
In a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Anthony Andrews plays Mustardseed.
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.
Robert Stephens, who had appeared the previous year in a production of The Zoo Story with Michael Gambon, stars alongside Edward Fox in Othello.
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.
A School Workshops Scheme is launched and becomes a permanent feature of the venue.
Kate O’Mara appears in Much Ado About Nothing. O’Mara would appear again in The Merry Wives of Windsor, three years later.
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.
Lesley Garrett appears in a double bill of English 18th Century Operas; Thomas & Sally and Rosina.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre produces its first musical, Bashville written by the then Artistic Director David William.
Richard E. Grant appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Natasha Richardson.
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.
Ian Talbot, makes his debut as Artistic Director with a production of Bartholomew Fair, which uses boar pigs borrowed from London Zoo.
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.
The season musical sees Roy Hudd and Anthony O’Donnell star in The Fantasticks.
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.
Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh finances The Card which is nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards.
Tim Piggott-Smith directs Damian Lewis in Hamlet.
Toyah Wilcox plays Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by John Doyle.
Kiss Me Kate is nominated for three Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Revival.
All’s Well that Ends Well makes its first appearance at the theatre with Nigel Planer as Parolles.
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.
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.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance plays for two seasons before going on a UK tour with Gary Wilmot and Su Pollard.
A star-studded 70th Anniversary concert is hosted by Judi Dench and Ian Talbot.
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.
Russ Abbott plays Bottom in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Timothy Sheader makes his Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre debut directing Twelfth Night.
Ian Talbot revives his 2003 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which includes Sheridan Smith amongst the cast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen Sondheim visits the theatre twice to see Into The Woods. Oliver Ford Davies plays Danforth in The Crucible, directed by Timothy Sheader.
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.
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.
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.
Two productions play in rep: Ragtime the Musical and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel re-direct their 2010 production of Into The Woods in Central Park, New York.