Britain’s acting icons before they were famous

Pride and Prejudice at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2013. Credit: David Jensen

The launch of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s new Heritage Project allows unprecedented access to its digital archives and fascinating snapshots of Britain’s acting icons before they became household names.

Pride and Prejudice at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2013. Credit: David Jensen
Pride and Prejudice at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2013. Credit: David Jensen

Many of Britain’s best-known actors, including Dame Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugh Bonneville, have trodden the boards at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Opening in 1932 with a production of Twelfth Night, Britain’s oldest professional, permanent outdoor theatre has grown and developed over its 83-year history to become a firm fixture for summer in London with over 140,000 people attending four annual productions between May and September.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has welcomed many of the country’s most beloved actors, directors and creative teams over its rich history, some relatively unknown at the time but who have gone to illustrious careers on stage and film.

Benedict Cumberbatch rehearsing for Loves Labours Lost for Regents Park Open Air Theatre in 2001. Credit: Regents Park Open Air Theatre
Benedict Cumberbatch rehearsing for Love’s Labour’s Lost for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2001. Credit: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Now, for the first time in the theatre’s history, the launch of the venue’s Heritage Project means unprecedented access to the theatre’s archives with a dedicated website.

The collection comprises items relating to productions dating back to the 1930s including, programmes, photographs, posters and production designs. As part of a long-term heritage project, material from these archives will be digitalised, preserving the delicate printed material for future generations.

The website launches with a detailed catalogue of four well-known theatre alumni: Dame Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville and Janie Dee. Visitors to the website will be able to delve into the actors’ relationship with the iconic venue, viewing previously unseen production images and programmes. Each quarter, there will be a new focus on an aspect of the theatre’s history.

Trustee of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Dame Judi Dench, says: “I am thrilled that Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are launching a Heritage Project to make their fascinating history available to all. I have enjoyed a long association with the theatre, and I am sure that anyone who has worked there, or who has seen a production there, has their own memories of special times in that unique venue.  To bring their archive collection together online for the first time will offer a wonderful opportunity to find out more about their past, but will secure that history for generations to come. Robert Atkins would be so pleased.”

Ralph Fiennes as Romeo and Sarah Woodward as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1986). Credit: Alistair Muir
Ralph Fiennes as Romeo and Sarah Woodward as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1986). Credit: Alistair Muir

Although funding has also been provided by an anonymous donation and money raised from staff members participating  in Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon, with such a wealth of collateral still to digitalise, donations to help fund the project can be made at www.openairtheatre.com/donations-booking

The theatre is also looking for donations of historic material, especially for the period 1932–1962, where current archives are limited. Please contact heritage@openairtheatre.com to make contributions to the archive.  

www.openairtheatreheritage.com

Related articles

Twelfth Night at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Early birthday present for Britain’s oldest theatre
Shakespeare in the sun: Britain’s best outdoor theatres
Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order

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