It has taken Lytham Hall just five years to become one of the leading venues in the country for open air theatre.
The historic Grade One listed Georgian mansion provides a stately and spectacular backdrop for touring performances.
The home, built by Thomas Carr for the Clifton family, is now a top drawer venue for theatre companies.
Productions are held on the Hall’s north lawn, and from small beginnings in 2010, the venue has built up an enviable reputation.
Full houses of 500 are expected for each of the four plays this summer, in a season which begins with Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s production of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre on Sunday, June 14.
Richard Main, artistic director of Chapterhouse, feels that Lytham Hall is one of England’s most sympathetic locations for open air theatre.
I am confident that each play at Lytham Hall this summer will be a richly rewarding experience
He says the shelter provided by the trees and the absence of traffic noise make it an actor’s delight.
He said: “Jane Eyre is a play where the cast are often expressing their inner feelings, and it requires considerable skill to project these, without shouting, in an open air setting.
“At Lytham Hall all the audience can hear every word.
“The acoustics and the setting are perfect, and the cast just love playing there, especially as they always find they are in front of a warm and knowledgeable Lancashire audience.”
The gates open two hours before each show and the audience arrives early, many with picnic hampers, folding chairs, parasols or umbrellas and insect repellent.
Cars are parked close to the arena, so there’s not far to go if sandwiches are left in the boot.
Meg Hargreaves, of The Friends of Lytham Hall, who help to organise the open air season, believes the hall and its surroundings add to the events taking place on stage.
She said: “It’s a delight for all five senses and the atmosphere is very English.
“The closeness of the stage and the skills of the cast in engaging their audience combine with the pleasure of being outdoors in a natural setting on a long summer evening.
“For those here for the first time it’s a revelation.
“Our audiences simply revel in the quick costume changes and doubling up which is the hallmark of all open air companies.”
Lytham businesses too have given their financial support to the venture despite the austere economic times.
Five Patrons in the first year have expanded to a total of 19 this summer.
They range from Booths Supermarkets, Stringers Department Store and the Gazette’s sister paper the Lytham St Annes Express, to individual Lytham firms such as Pemberton’s Dairies, Crofts Newsagency and Java Bistro and Wine Bar.
Illyria, one of the country’s longest-established touring theatre companies, who are celebrating their 23rd year on the road, will be bringing three plays to Lytham Hall this summer – Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe and this year’s family show The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, complete with chemicals, smells and explosions.
Illyria is the brain child of artistic director Oliver Gray, who is touring his four plays with separate casts of six or seven to some 60 venues all over the country this summer.
He believes Lytham’s audiences are in for a treat.
He said: “We are presenting three very differing productions, and I think people will be surprised particularly at the waspish humour of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe which is a wicked and ageless send-up of politicians and the House of Lords, very suitable for 2015.”
After seven consecutive performances on warm and sunny days in the past two summers, Lytham Hall’s theatre organiser Julian Wilde feels that the Hall has deserved its rise to the top of the al fresco theatre standings.
He said: “My work is made easy by the support and interest of Lytham people. The encouragement of everyone – from patrons to ticket outlets, from car parkers to coffee makers is outstanding and everyone aims to make our audience feel very wanted.
“ Newcomers are delighted to find that, whatever the play or the company, an open air production is never dumbed down.
“The actors may be expert at interaction with their audience, but always properly take a professional pride in the text, especially that of Shakespeare.
“I am confident that each play at Lytham Hall this summer will be a richly rewarding experience.”
Chapterhouse Theatre presents:
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) Sunday, June 14
Grounds open/Timings: 6.00pm outdoor performance begins. Admission: £13 adults/£10 senior citizens/£6.50 schoolchildren
Illyria presents: The Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare) Sunday, July 5. Grounds Open/Timings: 6pm outdoor performance begins. Admission: £13 adults/£10 senior citizens/£6.50 schoolchildren
Illyria presents: Iolanthe (Gilbert & Sullivan)
Tuesday, July 14 Grounds Open/Timings: 7.30pm outdoor performance begins. Admission: £13 adults/ £10 senior citizens/£6.50 schoolchildren
Illyria presents: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Family show)
Sunday, August 23. Grounds Open/Timings: 4pm outdoor performance begins. Admission: £13 adults/£10 senior citizens/£6.50 schoolchildren. Tickets are available from Lytham Hall on 01253 736652
Plackitt and Booth, Booksellers, 796958
Lowther Pavilion 01253 794221
Stringers Homelife 01253 740700
Storytellers Inc. 01253 781690
Bennetts Bakery, Ansdell 01253 736318 , Silverdell Kirkham 01772 68344