In a lunchtime reception attended by the glittering alumni of the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, author David Conville today launched an illustrated history of the venue, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Among those attending today’s event were Christopher Biggins, Michael Blakemore, Isla Blair, Clement Freud, Edward Fox, Nicky Henson, Celia Imrie, Kate O'Mara and outgoing artistic director Ian Talbot, who steps down in September after 20 years in the job.

David Conville has had a long career associated with the Open Air. First director, then chairman, now honorary president, he has been involved at the Park ever since he joined the theatre company in 1962. In addition to producing, he is an actor, playwright and director. He was awarded an OBE in 1983. The Park: The Story of the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park (published by Oberon Books, priced £15) includes a foreword by patron Dame Judi Dench and is dedicated to the theatre’s many “talented actors, directors, designers, technicians and musicians”, who today shared some of their own thoughts and memories about the Open Air.

TO SCROLL THROUGH THE OPEN AIR THEATRE BOOK LAUNCH PHOTOS,
JUST CLICK ON THE "NEXT >" LINKS BELOW THE FOLLOWING FRAME.

Speaking to Whatonstage.com, Kate O'Mara said: “It’s one of the best places to work, it’s like being at school; the memories are equally distant but charming, because it’s like no other place on Earth. I’ve done three seasons here. There’s something about the location, and about being in the Open Air - it releases one. I’ve played lots of wonderful parts here. The audience has always been stalwart and sat through endless amounts of rain. We used to have ghastly schoolchildren, and when we were doing the Dream, at the matinees little boys would borrow mirrors from the girls and put it in the sun so that it blinded you. Charming, isn’t it? But I wouldn’t miss it for anything.. my happiest memories!”

Actor/director Christopher Biggins recalled his early experiences of working at the Park with David Conville: “David was the artistic director and he asked me to come here and give my Puck. That particular season I was the best Puck in the Park! I’ve directed and acted here many, many times. It is just one of the best places ever to work. I think, if you can work at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, you can work anywhere, because you have to compete with tourists using you as a background to take photographs, animals coming on the stage, birds waddling across! It’s wonderful!”

Olivier Award winner Celia Imrie, who appeared at the venue in the 1977 summer season, reminisced that: “My earliest memories were biking here to the theatre from Fulham and riding round on the Inner Circle on my bicycle with a tape recorder, singing at the top of my voice and crashing into a tree! David gave me my first chance in Shakespeare, where I had previously only been in musicals up until then, so I have an awful lot to thank him for.”

And Edward Fox remembered his time working at the Open Air as being a particularly warm one: “It was the summer of 1976 and because it was so hot we had one half matinee off. We were playing Othello in woolly tights, and quite heavy costumes, so that part of it wasn’t much fun. It was a very, very hot tropical summer, but I have very fond memories of doing the production here.”

This summer’s 75th anniversary repertory season runs until 16 September 2007 with productions of Macbeth, Park perennial A Midsummer Night's Dream (in which Ian Talbot will play Bottom for a tenth time), Gershwin musical Lady Be Good!, children’s show Fantastic Mr Fox and the return of last year’s musical The Boy Friend (See News, 15 Jan 2007).

- by Jake Brunger


To read another first-hand account of today’s event, visit Michael Coveney's blog.