The schedule opens on 9 June (following previews from 2 June) with Shakespeare's pastoral comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, a perennial Open Air favourite, which will this year be directed by Michael Pennington, the leading classical actor (and subject of this week's 20 Questions interview) and co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company.
That is followed in the schedule on 13 June (previews from 4 June) by a new production of the bard's rarely performed early play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh whose 2001 production of Love's Labour's Lost at the Open Air won last year's Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Shakespearean production.
High Society, the annual Open Air musical, joins the repertory on 24 July (previews from 22 July). The musical, based on Philip Barry's classic stage play The Philadelphia Story, has music and lyrics by Cole Porter. It's best remembered as the 1956 MGM classic which starred Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. In 1987, former NT artistic director Richard Eyre mounted one of the first major stage versions of the film musical in a production at London's Victoria Palace that starred Natasha Richardson, Stephen Rea and Trevor Eve.
The new production will be directed by Open Air artistic director Ian Talbot, choreographed by Gillian Gregory and designed by Paul Farnsworth, who will also design the two Shakespeare offerings. Musical direction will be care of Catherine Jayes. High Society's score includes tunes such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", "You're Sensational", "True Love" and "Swell Party".
The final production in the schedule will be Granny and the Gorilla by Stuart Paterson, who also wrote last year's children's play, Merlin the Magnificent. In a rollercoaster ride of magic and mahem, the evil witch Scarab is plotting to take over the world. A co-production with the Unicorn Theatre for Children, it's directed by Tony Graham and opens on 30 July.
One of the country's most famous outdoor theatrical venues, the Open Air was founded in 1932 and became home to the New Shakespeare Company in 1962. With seating for 1,187, it is one of London's largest theatres. Over the years, a string of famous names have performed here, including Deborah Kerr, Vivien Leigh, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Kieth, Edward Fox, Robert Stephens, Jeremy Irons, Peggy Mount, Roy Hudd, Denis Quilley and Nigel Planer.
Casting for the 2003 season has not yet been announced.
- by Terri Paddock