Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Ragtime

For all peoples posturing that us city folk don’t get outside enough, one thing London does remarkably well is al fresco events using our glorious green spaces. The summer concerts in Hyde Park and Kenwood House, Lexi Cinema’s pop up events on Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park, Field Day in Victoria Park to name a smattering.

Regents Park gem, nestled away in the inner circle behind the boating lakes, bandstands and the siege of herons lining up like guardsman, is the historical Open Air Theatre, whose original airing was in 1932. Suddenly a twinkling of fairy lights appears and you feel like your entering something private and magical. With a bar. Heavenly. It’s a romantic, charming, calm setting.

Ragtime is a modern musical, not one I would recommend for the children. Unless they love a historical political message in their lyrics instead of rainbow coloured coats, yellow brick roads and flying cars. This adaptation of the novel by E.L Doctorow is full of bleak tales of poverty, racism, prejudice. Adult themes ahoy!

Ragtime Openair Regenmts Park

A cast of twenty singers, some playing multiple rolls, fill a stage set resembling the end of days (torn Barack Obama poster, rubble and discarded trinkets from the American dream). It looks chaotic and if you don’t concentrate can also feel chaotic. The pace is fast and the characters mingle and merge as the story progresses. Stoop to pour a glass of wine and the tale would have moved on and left you behind before you’re sitting up straight again. While the serious moral message behind Ragtime demands your attention it is the stellar cast that command it.

The vocal ability and raw acting behind this production continually gives you hope above the despair, redemption above the tragedies. Pay attention, enjoy the ad lib bird song floating down from the trees and huddle up under the stars next to someone you adore.

My Tips Darling
Leave plenty of time to walk through the park to get there; you don’t want a leisurely stroll playing at being a twitcher to turn into a speed walk as the park can feel like a maze if you’re not familiar with the surroundings.

No matter how fantastically sunny it is this production finishes late. As soon as the sun starts to sink I could visibly see goose bumps springing up the arms of those around me. Take layers, take picnic blankets to huddle under and take an umbrella just in case (there’s no covering).

I personally wouldn’t recommend booking front rows. In the bright cold light of day there is nowhere to hide. So when you find yourself locked eye to eye with a performer while they warble pure emotion at you I guarantee you will panic. I became convinced the expression I held was inappropriate and arranged my face in so many different ways I must have looked like I needed the toilet. The auditorium is laid out in such a way that everyone will get a perfect view. Scoot back a little to avoid what I found a slightly squirming experience.

Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L Doctorow, book by Terence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Open Air Theatre runs until September 8th 2012 and alternates Ragtime with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream.
For more info

Hannah Duncan

Hannah is a music obsessive, London loving, book worm, cider drinking, sci-fi geek. You can follow her on Twitter HERE