The annual summer season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, home of the New Shakespeare Company, opens tonight (2 June 2003) with previews of a new production of park favourite A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Michael Pennington. The three-month repertory schedule continues until 6 September 2003, with productions of Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, children's play Granny and the Gorilla and the first professional London production of Cole Porter musical High Society in 15 years (See News, 10 Apr 2003).

The cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream includes Issy Van Randwyck (Kiss Me Kate, Song of Singapore and formerly a member of Fascinating Aida) as well as Open Air regulars John Hodgkinson as Theseus and John Conroy as Quince, Peter Forbes (Mamma Mia!) as Bottom, Joseph Alessi (Animal Crackers) as Puck, Nicholas Burns (The Madness of George Dubya) as Demetrius, Dale Rapley as Oberon, Nick Fletcher as Lysander, Claire Redcliffe as Hermia and Victoria Woodward as Helena.

Michael Pennington, best known as one of the country's leading classical stage actors, was a co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company. A Midsummer Night's Dream is designed by Paul Farnsworth, with music by Terry Davies, lighting by Jason Taylor and sound by Simon Whitehorn. The production's press night is on 9 June.

The second Shakespeare production - The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh - joins the repertory on 13 June (previews from 4 June). Artistic director Ian Talbot, who first appeared at the theatre in 1971 as Bottom, will play the fool Launce alongside Van Randwyck as Silvia, Burns as Valentine, Fletcher as Proteus, Walter van Dyk as the Duke of Milan and Phillipa Peak as Julia.

Tracie Bennett and Brigit Forsyth star in High Society, the annual Open Air musical, opening 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.

In the Open Air production, Bennett plays Liz with Forsyth as Mother Lord, Annette McLaughlin (Anything Goes) as heiress Tracy, Dale Rapley as Dexter and Hal Fowler as Mike. Ian Talbot directs, with choreography by Gillian Gregory and design by Paul Farnsworth, who also designs the two Shakespeare offerings. Musical direction is 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 summer 2003 schedule will be Stuart Paterson's new children's play Granny and the Gorilla, which is directed by Tony Graham and opens on 30 July. Booking for the season has now opened.

- by Terri Paddock


To join our Whatsonstage.com Outing to High Society - including our annual summer picnic in the park - on Wednesday 13 August 2003, click here.