The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, whose new season begins tomorrow, is creating a digital archive of its rich contribution to London’s theatreland heritage. Britain’s oldest professional permanent outdoor theatre officially opened in 1932 and was dedicated to staging Shakespeare’s pastoral comedies.
Robert Atkins, the first director, Jean Forbes Robertson and Leslie French are among the past classical actors who appeared, plus Gladys Cooper, Vivien Leigh and Paul Scofield. Ralph Fiennes and Benedict Cumberbatch made their first professional appearances at Regent’s Park.
The original stage was an immaculately tended lawn overseen by the grandly titled Master of the Greensward, Ben Greet, an elderly former actor who introduced each performance, invariably referring to the often unpredictable weather in this ‘lovely woodland glade’.
Plans to put a roof over the auditorium, stripping it of much of its charm and merely rendering it the 47th of the West End’s indoor theatres, were rejected in the 1960s. ‘We thought about publishing a coffee table book,’ says Katey Warran, the theatre’s senior marketing officer, ‘but as we worked through our archives, we felt there was such a vast, hidden story that an online digital archive format would be best.
‘We still need to raise £7,800 and we also want to hear from anyone with material from past seasons, especially between the 1930s and 1960s.’
To contribute, visit the Regent’s Park theatre website at http://openairtheatre.com/1932 or telephone 0844 375 3460.
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