Arts

Rain never puts a damper on outdoor theatre

Jenny Lee previews a trio of open-air theatre productions that are coming to the north of Ireland this summer

Chapterhouse Theatre Company's The Secret Garden which bring it's open air production to Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey on July 2

OUTDOOR theatre may not be the norm for our climate but this summer northern audiences are invited to grab their picnic rugs and umbrellas (just in case) and experience some of literature's all-time favourites under moonlight as Chapterhouse Theatre Company perform three of their open-air theatre productions.

The Secret Garden, Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre will be performed by the English touring company, who will do 170 performances of six shows in parks and country houses throughout Britain and Ireland this season.

Chapterhouse was set up 16 year ago by it's artistic director Richard Main, a former musician and actor who fell in love with open air theatre after working for the Lincoln Shakespeare Company. While they began touring Shakespearean productions, the company's repertoire has grown to include shows as diverse as The Jungle Book, Sherlock Holmes and the works of the Brontes and Jane Austin.

"Classical literature and dramas with strong female characters, for both the stage and television, are becoming even more popular which can only be positive as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre are two of the most beautiful books ever written," says Richard, who has the enviable task of selecting the company's shows each year.

"Sometimes you do them because you know they are popular and people want to see them, like Pride & Prejudice. On other occasions I indulge myself, as with Sherlock Holmes' Hound of the Baskervilles. Our audiences seem to like murder mysteries and productions that have a gothic feeling about them."

Banbridge audiences can look forward to experiencing that shiver down the spine in the evening air with Jane Eyre. "As well as a powerful love story, it has that ghostly feeling about it. It really goes with being outside and in quite magical places," says Richard about Chapterhouse's new production of this coming-of-age love story.

The outdoor setting is perfect for the adapation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden – audiences to Newtownabbey's Mossley Mill can join Mary Lennox on her journey of discovery as she she unlocks the mystery of the secret garden accompanied by an array of woodland friends. This enchanting story, loved by children, will be brought alive with music, song and puppets.

Open-air theatre offers an ideal opportunity to introduce children to live performance and Chapterhouse take this responsibility seriously, trialling their family shows on children's audiences during their rehearsal period.

"You can tell – if they are sit engrossed and watching it you know you've done a good job," says Richard. "When you come to the open-air venues there's a whole ambience of its own which is wonderful. You don't get stuck in a seat with people shushing you. It's quite relaxed and audiences are more involved in the show. Every single venue and night is different – even the sky is different."

And what about the weather? "People come wrapped up and the show goes on, unless there is lightening or something like that. I've actually performed in Romeo and Juliet when it was pouring rain and I've never forget that night because it was magical. Sometimes the rain makes it's special."

:: Chapterhouse Theatre Company perform The Secret Garden at the Civic Square, Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey on July 2, Pride and Prejudice at Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne on July 28 and Jane Eyre at Solitude Park, Banbridge on August 7. For ticket details see chapterhouse.org.

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