Open air festival returns to St Albans' Roman Theatre this summer
- Credit: Simon Nicholas
Open air performances will return to St Albans' historic Roman Theatre this summer at a six-week festival.
Featuring drama, comedy, opera, music and entertainment for all ages, The Roman Theatre Open Air Festival is being presented at the outdoor venue by The Maltings Theatre from Friday, May 28 to Sunday, July 11.
From Shakespeare to Gilbert & Sullivan, this year’s festival will be headlined by productions created and performed by The Maltings Theatre’s in-house company OVO and associate company Charles Court Opera.
The programme includes the return of Christmas show Peter Pan, which ran at The Alban Arena last December before tier restrictions prematurely brought the curtain down on the production before the end of its run.
The summer festival's line-up at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium also includes William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and The Winter's Tale, a timeless tragicomedy of obsession and redemption.
Musical entertainment will be provided by Cobbles and Rhyme Productions and St Albans Folk, with the award-winning St Albans Musical Theatre Company also returning to the stage.
The unique site in Bluehouse Hill will host performances of Iolanthe, G&S Express, A Spoonful of Musicals and Showtime!, hits from Hollywood, Broadway and beyond.
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Productions by local community and children’s theatre companies Theatre2U, Act 4 Theatre and The Byte are also scheduled.
Tickets go on sale on Tuesday, April 6 from www.maltingstheatre.co.uk
Maltings Theatre artistic director Adam Nichols said: “Having led last year’s successful campaign to persuade the government to allow live open air performances to restart, we’re delighted we can do it again this year!
"We have upgraded facilities at the Roman Theatre in St Albans so that audiences will be able to comfortably and safely enjoy the panoply of entertainment we’ve got planned at this beautiful, historical open-air site.
"I’m looking forward to staging our own OVO/Maltings Theatre productions and to welcoming an exciting array of visiting companies.
"The Roman Theatre Open Air Festival will truly offer something for everyone.”
The programme, in repertory style, opens on Friday, May 28 with The Maltings Theatre’s rip-roaring production of J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan.
Adam Nichols said: "I’m directing Peter Pan from a script I’ve adapted from J.M. Barrie’s original. It’s such a fun show and we’ve got some lovely surprises – including live music and song – in store for the audience.
"We’re presenting live music throughout the festival including during The Comedy of Errors, which is directed by my good friend and colleague, the award-winning director Matthew Parker, and during The Winter's Tale, which I’m co-directing with the excellent Janet Podd who’s an associate director with OVO.
"I’m also in the show as Leontes. It’s a fantastic role and a character who veers between jealous tyranny and pure villainy. And Leontes’ son is played by my own son Finn – so it’s a bit of a family affair!"
The Roman Theatre of Verulamium, dating from 140 AD, is the only example of its kind in Britain: a theatre with a stage rather than an amphitheatre.
It would have been used for anything from religious processions and dancing, to wrestling, armed combat and wild beast shows with capacity for 2,000 spectators.
Excavated in 1847 and 1935, subsequent excavations revealed a row of shop foundations, a Roman Villa and a secret shrine, all thought to date from the 1st century.
There are a number of challenges in staging plays at this ancient site, as Adam Nichols explained.
"We’ve been staging productions at the Roman Theatre for a few years now but last year was a new challenge because of COVID-related restrictions.
"We've become adept at ensuring the venue is completely safe and comfortable for audiences and we have put in extra safety measures too for our casts and creative teams.
"Seating is placed – in twos and fours – in the well of the site and we have more seating further back in what we call the terrace.
"We have to be very careful not to touch the ancient stones or rocks and so there are strategically placed ramps to facilitate access to seating.
"Our lighting team is under an awning towards the back of the site so that the equipment is protected from the elements.
"We like to remind audiences to bring all-weather clothing because umbrellas aren’t allowed during the performances."