It might feel as though autumn is just around the corner, but there are still – hopefully – some weeks of summer left to enjoy. With that in mind, we’ve scoured the country to find some of the best open-air entertainment the country has to offer. But remember we’re still in the UK after all – so whatever the weather forecast says, do pack your waterproofs!
When it comes to country house opera, the crème de la crème is surely Glyndebourne. One of the oldest opera festivals, Glyndebourne was started in the 1930s by John Christie at his home in East Sussex, and today is run by his grandson, Gus. As well as fantastic opera – the primary resident orchestra is the London Philharmonic – the house is also famous for its beautiful gardens, and for its picnicking. Although there’s no official dress code, visitors are encouraged to dress up, and black tie is encouraged, along with long dresses for the ladies.
Make sure to arrive in time for afternoon tea and a stroll around the gardens, before enjoying your supper during the lengthy 90-minute interval. Picnickers tend to go all out here: think white linen tablecloths, vases of cottage garden flowers, and champagne flutes for your English sparkling. If you can’t quite face doing the catering yourself, you can pre-order a picnic from Leiths, and collect it there.
Tickets are still available for the remainder of this season’s programme, which includes Dvořák’s Rusalka, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and Handel’s Rinaldo.
Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House
Somerset House is one of London’s most beautiful buildings, so where better to enjoy an outdoor cinema experience? For all of August, the main courtyard turns into London’s largest outdoor screen for the Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House. There is a film to suit almost everyone, from Reservoir Dogs to The Piano. There’s a guest DJ each night, playing sets inspired by that evening’s film. Before Straight Outta Compton, for example, Oh Annie Oh will play a hip hop and trap set, while for The Piano, there’ll be a live classical contemporary performance from Swedish-Iranian pianist Shida Shahabi.
The Minack Theatre
Carved out of the cliffs of the Cornish coast, the open air Minack amphitheatre, near Land’s End, boasts stunning views. First built to stage a local performance of The Tempest in the 1930s, it nowadays plays host to a wide range of plays and concerts, performed either by travelling theatre companies, or their own in-house production company. From opera to musicals and their very own Proms, there’s lots to choose from, as well morning storytelling for children on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (it’s advisable to book, especially in the summer holidays). Even if there’s nothing on, the theatre is still open to visitors, as are the Minack gardens, where visitors can see rare plants usually found in more tropical climes.
Regents Park Open Air Theatre
It might seem strange to step out of a zoo and straight into a theatre, but in Regent’s Park, it’s perfectly feasible. The Open Air Theatre has won numerous awards for its productions, including for its Jesus Christ Superstar, which won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical. The theatre is currently playing their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, which runs until 21 September.
If you thought that the British circus was a tired old remnant of the circuses of the past, then think again. Gifford’s Circus, the brainchild of Nell Gifford, is an old-fashioned, village style circus, and will make you rethink everything you thought about ‘going to the circus’. It’s very much family run; everyone is hands-on, and Nell’s children help behind the scenes and even perform in the big top. Yes, there are animals, with the horseback acrobatics a stand-out performance. But it’s the whole atmosphere which makes Gifford’s so very special. It’s intimate, fun, and highly recommended for all the family. The circus’s 2019 show – this year a 70s-themed ‘dreamy ecstasy’ named Xanadu – runs until 29th September, with the remaining performances in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Lazy Jazz Sundays at Polesden Lacey
For something less structured, head to Polesden Lacey, a National Trust-run gem in the Surrey Hills. The Edwardian house was gifted to the Trust by society hostess Margaret Greville, and is where George VI and the Queen Mother honeymooned. Every Sunday throughout the summer, Polesden has live jazz music from 2-4pm in the gardens. Grab a deckchair, sit back, and enjoy a relaxing August Sunday in the Surrey Hills.