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Brief Encounter With ... Open Air Artistic Director Timothy Sheader

The Open Air Theatre Regent's Park opens its new season on 25 May (previews from 19 May 2011) with Nigel Williams' adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Based on William Golding’s novel, the production is helmed by the Open Air's artistic director Timothy Sheader who is reunited with the team behind last year's successful run of The Crucible. The production runs until 18 June 2011.

The rest of Sheader's 2011 season will be made up of The Beggar’s Opera, presented from John Gay’s original text; Shakespeare's Pericles performed at the Open Air for the first time since 1939 and retold for young audiences; with Gershwin’s Crazy for You completing the season.

I speak to Timothy Sheader during the rehearsal process for the first piece in his 2011 summer season, William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams. "It can feel like a school play" he says of marshalling the young cast who bring the characters of this school set text to life on stage.

The production also continues Sheader's passion for "enormous sets", the real airplane fuselage the cast will inhabit fills the Open Air's stage just as last year's iron work sculpture did for the theatre's Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Award-winning production of Into the Woods - the tail of the crashed 100-seat plane will be just as tall as Rapunzel's tower was last year, nested amongst the tops of Regent's Park's trees.

But do the scale of these productions have on the work's future potential? Sheader reveals the company were in discussions about a further life for Into the Woods, taking the production to another "very specific" outdoor space, "these productions just wouldn't work indoors" he tells me.

Sheader's new season, his fourth in charge, encompasses The Beggar's Opera and Crazy for You - its only Shakespeare piece a young-persons retelling of Pericles, a lesser know and performed work of the Bard's which Sheader and the show's director Natalie Abrahami will recraft "for everyone aged six and over". "None of the incest is there," Sheader tells me, "the brothel becomes a freakshow".

Does the artistic director of the New Shakespeare Company see a time when none of the Bard's work is included in the Open Air's season? Possibly, Sheader can see a day when there is no Shakespeare included in his line-up at all, but he doesn't see that as something to be afraid of. As a programmer he is very aware of his theatregoers, and is keen to keep attracting their core audience, who may be more used to seeing Shakespeare comedies in the park. Sheader admits he is pushing the boundaries with dramas such as Lord of the Flies but thinks the piece has enough nostalgia to it, existing in the sub-conscience of many of his theatregoing public from their school days, and will also help to engage a younger audience.

As we move on to discussing the logistics of presenting theatre in park every summer Sheader tells me he is still to have a technical rehearsal period in the park which hasn't been impacted by rain in some way, but he is stoic in his outlook, the outdoors and the weather is very much part of what makes the theatre unique and allows them to present the epic productions it creates.

Does this mean we wont be seeing Sheader's work indoors? He doesn't shy away from the suggestion we might see him directing out-with the Open Air in the near future - he helmed Imagine This which transferred from the Theatre Royal Plymouth for a short-lived West End run in 2008 - but he won't be drawn as to whether we should expect a musical or play project. He is also ambitious in his plans for the New Shakespeare Company. Their future, he says, could include presenting some of their work from a building-based theatre, allowing the company to perform year round.

The Lord of the Flies opens at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park on 25 May (previews 16 May) where it continues until 18 June 2011. Full details of the Open Air's season can be found here.


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