Outdoor Theatre In Jesmond Dene: English Countryside At Its Best

Outdoor Theatre In Jesmond Dene: English Countryside At Its Best
Elaine
Elaine
Published

Outdoor Theatre has a long and distinguished tradition in England. The tradition began in ancient Greece and, in England, it dates back to Shakespeare’s Globe in 1599. There have always been plucky players who would brave the English weather to take live theatre to audiences outdoors. Jesmond Dene is a picturesque urban park close to the centre of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in North East England. It is a narrow beautiful wooded valley with a little river running through it which was the former estate of industrialist Lord Armstrong and bequeathed to the people of the city upon his death.

A background of beautiful mature trees just next door to a small petting zoo, ‘Pet’s Corner,’ provides the backdrop for the annual visit of outdoor theatre company Heartbreak Productions. Heartbreak Productions has been coming to Jesmond Dene for 12 years and this year is the company’s 25th birthday.

The Heartbreak Formula

Murder on the Terrace!

Heartbreak Productions was formed by Maddy Kerr and Peter Mimmack in 1991 and the company aims to tell stories that inspire, entertain and challenge. Each year, open auditions are held at their headquarters in Leamington Spa, and first-class actors who are also able to drive vans, put tents up and are completely waterproof, are selected for the forthcoming season. ‘The show must go on,’ has never applied so much as it does to outdoor theatre in England as fine summer weather is often not much more than a nostalgic yearning. However, when you do get those rare beautiful evenings with the late sun glancing through the leaves of the surrounding garden woodland, and you are sitting on the grass with your picnic and your glass of wine, there’s really not a better place to be in the English summertime.

A fun and contemporary touch

Prospero summons his magic

Heartbreak Productions shows usually have a sort of framing device which makes the stories a bit more contemporary and add a bit more fun to the proceedings. Their version of the classic Alice in Wonderland, for example, had Alice appearing at the beginning with an iPad! The two warring families of old Verona became modern day rival football teams in Romeo and Juliet and Peter Pan was transported to the events of a modern day skateboard park.

A diverse line-up

Ratburger comes to Jesmond Dene

This year, four very different shows are on offer. Shakespeare’s The Tempest was the first play to get to Newcastle and the weather copied the play, and a summer Tempest came to the Dene when the heavens opened. Murder on the Terrace is a brand new spoof murder mystery written by Heartbreak’s resident wordsmith, David Kerby-Kendall. The perfect antidote to a turbulent summer in the real world, this is all just good clean fun.

Rich in puns, literary and contemporary references, terrible corny jokes and, at times, becoming a sort of murder mystery pantomime, Murder on the Terrace is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of any audience. Then there is David Walliams’ (of Britain’s Got Talent fame) Ratburger – this is the world premiere of the stage version of the book, a fun children’s tale of pets and parents and a lot of ice cream. The final show is the Oscar Wilde classic and ever popular The Importance of Being Earnest.

This fast frothy fun comedy is set at a party in 1929, which gives a great excuse for lovely costumes, some Noel Coward songs and a Charleston or two. Every other line is a sharp comic observation on society and much of Wilde’s satire still resonates today.

The future for outdoor theatre

There are over a dozen touring outdoor theatre companies in the UK, not to mention permanent outdoor venues such as the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London and the famous Minack Theatre in Cornwall cut into the granite hillside.

In a world where we live our lives so much through technology, there is something very immediate and especially enjoyable about being able to experience the temperamental English summer and watch live actors bring to life stories old and new, al fresco. In addition, most outdoor theatre takes place in beautiful outdoor surroundings. Parks, stately homes and gardens are favourite venues which always showcase the English countryside at its best. Go to Heartbreak Productions’ website to catch up with this summer’s UK programme.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Elaine particularly enjoys destinations with colourful cultures which are very different from the UK and she has a passion for local street markets. Eco and nature tourism are also top picks and...Read more

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