A look ahead to the open air theatre season at Lytham Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 June 2019
Lytham will be hosting a stunning programme of open air theatre events – from Mary Shelley to Shakespeare
Frankenstein, Ali Baba, Lancashire comedian Steve Royle and Caliban will all take centre stage this summer as Lytham Hall celebrates ten burgeoning seasons of open air theatre
From small shoots when just 600 people watched three plays in a season backed by five local business patrons, the 2019 programme has blossomed into five diverse and eye-catching productions, supported by 23 patrons. Around 2,500 playgoers are expected and the days of Lytham Hall being regarded as Lancashire's "hidden gem" are long gone.
The majestic 200-year-old oaks and beeches in the 78 acres of parklands which surround the newly repainted Grade I listed Georgian Hall ensure that there is complete uninterrupted silence for each production.
Julian Wilde, organiser of the open-air season which begins with Chapterhouse Theatre's Cranford on Sunday June 16, believes that it is the quality of the first-hand experience which has attracted increasing numbers.
'The acting and the audibility in the hands of specialist companies is of the highest quality, the setting and atmosphere on a lengthy summer evening is simply glorious and, most importantly, each visitor receives the warm welcome for which the Red Rose county is famed.'
Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado and the family shows, many by Roald Dahl, which round off the programme each August Bank Holiday Sunday have drawn full houses. The organisational work is cheerfully done by an army of Lythamers, all unpaid volunteers.
Checking the tickets, parking the cars, greeting and seating the audience, serving refreshments, running a charity raffle, organising autographs and photos with the cast - the Friends of Lytham Hall and the young Meet and Greet team work in a very personal way.
Assistant organiser Julia Munro, a student of theatre production at Sir Paul McCartney's Institute of the Performing Arts in Liverpool, has been involved for the past six summers. She is delighted that the plays now draw enthusiasts from all parts of the county.
'The production of The Mikado last August saw largest audience at any of the 40 venues visited by Illyria in their nationwide tour and we regularly welcome visitors from Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and even from Yorkshire. The Guardian Concert Band and Lytham Community Choir, who entertain before the shows, add a real local flavour too.'
An innovation this summer is a poignant play, written and produced by Blackpool's David Slattery-Christy about the life and death of Victorian Music Hall star Dan Leno. Steve Royle of BBC Radio Lancashire who has 16 seasons as Buttons in the Blackpool Grand's panto to his credit, plays the lead with a brilliant mix of physical and verbal pyrotechnics.
TV personality Gyles Brandreth, himself a biographer of Dan Leno, is endorsing the first open air performance by Steve and his cast on Saturday August 24 and in doing so follows in the footsteps of Dame Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Lesley Garrett, Lytham-educated Stephen Tompkinson and Kate Winslet who have all lent their support to earlier seasons.
All the profits from the shows go to the continuing renovation of Lytham Hall and grounds - £8,000 last summer and now close to £50,000 over the past decade. A much-needed path for pedestrians parallel to the main drive, new rose beds, floodlighting, the repainting of the exterior stonework of the Hall in its original 18th century ochre colour are among the projects financed by the revenue from the plays.
Three of this summer's five plays will be performed by Cornish-based Illyria, now in their 28th season of open- air touring. Artistic Director Oliver Gray who is producing The Tempest, Frankenstein and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves considers Lytham Hall to be one of the most atmospheric venues.
'Improvements to the grounds mean that over the past decade the theatre arena on the Hall's north lawn has been enhanced year on year. It is sheltered, sylvan and provides first class acoustics. And our casts just love being pampered in the lovely Tea Room before performances1'
Julian Wilde believes that, above all else, it is the quality of the plays and the performances which have elevated Lytham Hall to one of the country's best supported venues for open air theatre.
'We always aim to ensure that, in Shakespeare's own words, "The play's the thing" - and first class drama is clearly a honeypot for supportive Lancashire folk,' he said.