Samantha Spiro, Sean Campion and Joseph Mydell are amongst the actors leading the charge this summer at the Open Air Theatre, where the annual repertory runs from 15 May to 12 September 2009. It’s the second season under the artistic directorship of Timonth Sheader, who took over in October 2007 from Ian Talbot (See News, 6 Mar 2007), and, breaking with tradition, it will feature an Oscar Wilde revival rather than Shakespeare as its second play offering (See News, 9 Jun 2009).

The 2009 programme, from 1 to 27 June (previews from 25 May), opens with Sheader’s own production of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, featuring Samantha Spiro and Sean Campion (Olivier and Tony nominated as one of the original stars of Stones in His Pockets in the West End and on Broadway) as reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick. They’re joined in the cast by: Simon Gregor, Tim Howar, Sarah Ingram, Nigel Cooke, Mark McGee as well as Peter Bramhill, Silas Carson, Eke Chukwu, Chris Jared, Ben Mansfield, Harry Myers, Anthony O’Donnell, Anneika Rose, Annalisa Rossi, Tim Steed, Kate Tydman and David Whitworth.

Alongside the Bard comedy, from 10 to 28 June 2009 (previews from 5 June), will be a new adaptation of The Tempest, re-imagined for children from six years up. The interactive kids’ Shakespeare follows the success of last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s directed by DV8 choreographer Liam Steel and stars the Black British actor Joseph Mydell (who, amongst myriad stage credits, won an Olivier for Angels in America as Prospero. Also in the cast are Michael Camp (as Caliban), Matt Costain (Ariel), Akiya Henry (Miranda), John O’Mahoney, William Oxborrow, and Tom Silburn.

Susan Wooldridge will play Lady Bracknell in Irina Brown’s new production of The Importance of Being Earnest, running from 8 to 25 July 2009 (previews from 3 July). Prim-and-proper Jack Worthington is in love with the equally prim-and-proper Gwendolyn Fairfax. His friend Algernon Moncrieff is in love with Cecily Cardew. But both Gwendolyn and Cecily are in love with Ernest. Meanwhile, the imposing Lady Bracknell is dubious about a story involving a handbag … Wilde’s 1895 comedy was seen last year at the West End’s Vaudeville, where Penelope Keith starred as Lady Bracknell.

Samantha Spiro returns to the Park to take the title role in Jerry Herman’s ten-time Tony Award-winning musical Hello, Dolly!, the season’s final production, running from 10 August to 12 September 2009 (previews from 30 July). The “lavish” revival will be directed by Sheader and choreographed by Stephen Mear, who collaborated on last year’s musical Whatsonstage.com Award-nominated revival of Gigi.

Hello, Dolly! was famously made into a 1969 film starring Barbra Streisand in the title role. Widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi takes a trip to Yonkers, New York to see prominent, wealthy bachelor Horace Vandergelder. While there, she persuades him, his two stock clerks, his niece, and her beau to go to New York City, where Dolly tries to arrange a match between the two clerks and the woman Vandergelder had been courting and her shop assistant over a hectic dinner.

Spiro won the Whatsonstage.com and Olivier awards for Best Actress in a Musical for Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse in 2000. Her other stage credits have included Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, Bedroom Farce, Two Thousand Years and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Last summer at Chichester Festival, she tackled another musical role played on screen by Barbra Streisand – Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.

Further casting for The Importance of Being Earnest and Hello, Dolly! has not yet been announced. For the first time this summer, visitors wishing to enjoy the full Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre experience will be able to pre-book picnics with their theatre tickets up to 36 hours prior to their visit. The picnic will comprise a selection of food and drink (including wine) and a complimentary programme.

Commenting on the new catering arrangements, Timothy Sheader said: “The wonderful unpredictability of being in the heart of one of the city's most loved parks is what makes each visit to the Open Air Theatre a truly unique and thrilling experience. We encourage audiences to arrive early and enjoy the theatre’s enchanting setting and to stay late in the longest and most spacious bar of any London theatre.”

- by Terri Paddock