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New Shakespeare Company: History

Open air performances were given in Regent's Park long before the formation of the New Shakespeare Company, indeed before Regent's Park was given its current name and was known only as the Royal Botanical Gardens. From small beginnings at the turn of the century the reputation of the park grew until the first recognizable theatre was created in 1932 through a partnership between Sydney Carroll and Robert Atkins. The company thrived until the 1950s, achieving many successes and including many of Britain's top actors. Those interested in this rich theatrical heritage before the formation of the New Shakespeare Company in 1962 should read Robert Atkins: an unfinished autobiography (London: Society of Theatre Research, 1994).

Financial matters increasingly caused problems during the 1950s : the theatre was losing money and the style of presentation becoming predictable. The theatre was forced to close in 1954, 1957 and 1961 and the owners of the land, the Ministry of Works, considered revoking the theatre's licence and finding some other function for the property. A fresh impetus was urgently required for open air theatre to survive in the park.

In 1962, David Conville and David William took on the enterprise and signed a contract for a 3 month season as David Conville Productions Ltd. The New Shakespeare Company was officially formed. Performances have been given at Regent's Park every year since 1962 making it the largest established professional permanent open-air theatre in the United Kingdom.

Licence from the Provincial Theatre Council 1962

The mission of the theatre is to present two Shakespeare plays each season. The cornerstone of the repertoire has always been the more popular comedies, particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream which is suited to the leafy surrounds of the park. The company is, however, far from restricted to the well known comedies. Many of the lesser-known comedies have also been successfully performed, including Love's Labour's Lost (1962, 1976, 1977) and The Two Noble Kinsmen in 1974, at which time the play was not generally accepted as part of Shakespeare's canon. There have also been successful productions of many of the tragedies and histories. Apart from Shakespeare, the company has demonstrated the versatility to tackle a broad range of theatre styles, from large-scale musicals to small-scale modern classics such as Old Times and Zoo Story.

In 1975 a new fan-shaped auditorium was built with a 1,200 capacity, making it one of the largest theatres in London. The tiered seating meant that no seat was further than 80 feet from the stage. 1982 saw the Golden Jubilee of the Open Air Theatre which was celebrated with a visit from Queen Elizabeth who attended a performance.

Golden Jubilee Theatre Ticket 1982

Since 1987, Ian Talbot has been the Artistic and Managing Director and has established a theatre with an atmosphere and repertoire which make it distinct among London theatres. In 1992, the Theatre's 60th anniversary year, he wrote:

"The Open Air Theatre is now established as a national institution and is the only fully professional, permanent open air theatre in the British Isles. With both banks full it can seat over 1,200 people, making it one of the largest theatres in London. Over the past three decades the NSC has presented 90 major productions in Regent's Park, 24 national tours, and 13 overseas tours. Since 1962 we have employed over 2,500 actors and staff while 3,000,000 people have watched the plays".

In 1999, the New Shakespeare Company was awarded a National Lottery grant to improve the facilities of the Open Air Theatre.  These improvements will provide up-to-date technical facilities and better access for disabled people, as well as improving and enhancing the Theatre's unique ambience for audiences well into the next century.

The Theatre's website address is http://www.openairtheatre.org.

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