The whole world has suffered from two deeply depressing years.
While the pandemic is far from gone, the general consensus among scientists is that coronavirus is at its worst during the winter months. The negative connotations have then been compounded by the usual malaise that afflicts anyone in the northern hemisphere during the cold, dark days around the turn of the year.
Thankfully, we have struggled through and can finally look forward optimistically to enjoying that promise of warmth and joy in the title of this article, borrowed from one of the finest musicals of all time, Hair.
Global warming is a very serious issue and threatens to be a blight on society for the foreseeable future. It is a topic about which many theatre folk feel very seriously and one that this column is likely to address in the not too distant future.
However, depending upon geographical location, it can have some upsides.
Although our Prime Minister has unilaterally declared that coronavirus is cured, that view is about as accurate as so many others that the inveterate and unrepentant partygoer has delivered in recent times.
As this article is written, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that in the United Kingdom around 1.25 million people, representing approximately 2% of the population, are still afflicted. This means that if you visit an average West End or regional theatre, the odds are that at least 10 of your fellows will unwittingly be attempting to infect you.
Johnsonians will laugh at this, given that the virus has been neutered by the great man. However, recent empirical evidence suggests that many of those who are catching COVID-19 at the moment feel seriously ill for a couple of weeks.
This brings us to the topic of outdoor theatrical performances. Before even heading into the usual attractions, it has now been established that if you feel the need to sit in a crowd of several hundred people, it is far safer to do so out in the open air, particularly where you may also be able to distance yourself socially from other theatregoers.
The attractions on offer each year vary but follow certain trends. For the most part, the performances are peripatetic, dotting around between parks and gardens, which requires a little organisation to find an appropriate venue on a specific date. However, there are also seasonal theatres with fixed venues. In the London area, the two leading companies are Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Regent’s Park is a delightful visitor attraction as a massive open space, well-maintained and offering a zoo and boating lake in addition to the general pleasures. For lovers of staged entertainment, there is the Open Air Theatre, which is tending away from its traditional programming dominated by Shakespeare, preferring to offer an assortment of more modern plays and musicals. The production quality is always high and, although the seating is fixed, this really is open-air in the true sense.
This can inevitably have downsides, but many of these disappear when you realise that climate change is already turning 2022 into what increasingly looks like a summer of drought. That is bad from almost every perspective, but not if you want a good chance of enjoying an afternoon or evening out at the theatre without getting too cold or wet.
Shakespeare’s Globe is something of a different animal, in that much of the audience is under cover, although so closely crammed together that those fearful of COVID may be a little wary. As its name suggests, it primarily offers productions by the greatest playwright of all time, although it mixes these with other work.
Elsewhere, theatres like the Scoop, which unbelievably is free to visit, and Arcola Outside, a relatively new venture by a North London theatre that has always sought to differentiate itself from competitors, are also well worth a try.
London may not yet have the kind of climate that guarantees sunshine throughout the summer, but this could be the year when outdoor theatre achieves a greater level of popularity than ever before.