How to get out of the theatre

Every summer, Shakespeare goes inside out at the Globe, Regent's Park and now Lincoln's Inn Fields. What's the appeal of the great outdoors?

If you have ever acted in a theatre, in anything from a school play onwards, you will know the way the stage lights semi-blind you so that the audience appears as a ghostly blur. Gregory Thompson, founder of AandBC theatre company, thinks this is madness. "How can you perform if you cannot see your audience?" he demands. "Shakespeare was originally performed in daylight. There is a far more powerful contract between actors and audience if they are sharing the same light, instead of one half of them sitting hidden in the dark."

If you have ever acted in a theatre, in anything from a school play onwards, you will know the way the stage lights semi-blind you so that the audience appears as a ghostly blur. Gregory Thompson, founder of AandBC theatre company, thinks this is madness. "How can you perform if you cannot see your audience?" he demands. "Shakespeare was originally performed in daylight. There is a far more powerful contract between actors and audience if they are sharing the same light, instead of one half of them sitting hidden in the dark."

Our theatres dissolved that contract long ago by moving indoors at the beginning of the 17th century, but every year, summer revives it with that staple ritual of the British cultural calendar known as Outdoor Theatre. Despite the contrary nature of our climate, the English descend upon Regent's Park Open Air, the Globe and the grounds of numerous stately homes across the country with an enthusiasm unequalled throughout the darker months. Watching Shakespeare outdoors on a beautiful summer evening remains one of theatre's most magical experiences, and Thompson knows it: for the last five years he has quietly been weaving miracles in the secluded gardens of Lincoln's Inn. Last year his company performed an innovative production of The Tempest, which involved seating the audience on a cluster of oil drums while the actors performed around them, and casting the entire company as Ariel, so that when he spoke the audience heard not one voice but many. Not only was it powerful and enchanting, it seemed to capture a kind of theatrical essence.

Thompson, one suspects, is no ordinary director. He likes the idea of an audience watching the play from different angles (the drum seats in The Tempest could be rotated) and thinks that by having the play happening around them it allows the audience to connect with different performers in different ways. He is thoroughly against the "watch me" school of acting.

"Theatre is a very subtle reality," he says. "We talk of a performance as though it is the thing that is happening up there, on stage, but really it's what's happening in the hearts of the people on the seats."

He started AandBC theatre company in 1989, because, he says, he didn't believe he had the right to ask other people for work until he knew what he wanted to do with theatre, and at that point, he had no idea. He admits that it took him a long time to find out. "There seem to be so many young theatre directors out there now who know exactly how to make the type of work they want," he says. "It took me 15 years."

At first, AandBC put on productions "wherever people would have us", indoors and out, but in 1994 Thompson knocked on the door of the Masters of the Bench of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. "I used to walk through the gardens every day when I was studying at LSE. It's the perfect place to put on a play: quiet, private and beautiful."

He was not the first person to think so: the Inns of Court have a long-standing relationship with Shakespeare. Gray's Inn saw the first recorded performance of The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night was first performed at Temple. "The committee was understandably cautious at first, but they did agree. Now the first night of each production is specifically for them. I like that, the idea of us playing to our hosts."

This year the company returns with Pericles. "It's an extraordinary play," says Thompson. "It's the story of a man who is lost and refound. It has this very simple message - that it is better to trust in virtue rather than in fortune. I am suspicious of the way we trust in luck these days, playing the lottery for example, as it means we no longer need to worry about being virtuous."

His belief in theatre as "a spiritual thing" is behind the emphasis he places on the relationships between actor and audience, and the reasons why his productions feel slightly mystical as a result. "Theatre should put its audience in touch with their humanity," he says. "It should change them each time, make them more like themselves, make them that bit more alive. If we don't have that effect on people, then we become mere entertainment, and we have failed."

Outdoor theatre might provide the ideal conditions in which to create this, but will Thompson just stick to small venues that promote closeness between actors and audiences? "No! I would love AandBC to be huge! I would love to work somewhere like the Olivier for example, see if it is possible to touch every person in that enormous auditorium in an intimate way." What about the ancient amphitheatre theatre at Epidaurus that seats 12,000 people, and is outdoors to boot? "Oh yes," he grins. "That would be perfect."

'Pericles', 1 - 26 Aug; 'The Tempest', 29 Aug-2 Sept, Lincoln's Inn, London WC2 0870 870 1023

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories