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Open air culture

Timothy Barber
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NOW that we&rsquo;ve been experiencing the kind of clear blue skies and sunshine that put the last few summers, erm, in the shade, we&rsquo;ve got to enjoy it. <br /><br />Summer in the city means making the most of its open spaces, and in this day and age, that means a whole lot more than plonking down a blanket and opening a picnic hamper. The parks, squares and open spaces of the capital throw up the most spectacular backdrops for concerts, theatrical performances and film screenings, and they lend performances a magical atmosphere that&rsquo;s impossible replicate under a roof. From the cobbles of Somerset House&rsquo;s courtyard to the charm or the Regent&rsquo;s Park Open Air Theatre, London&rsquo;s cultural scene comes alive over the next two months as it moves outdoors. We select the highlights.<br /><strong><br />THEATRE<br /></strong>There are two dominant forces in outdoor theatre in London, the beautiful theatre space nestled in Regent&rsquo;s Park (above), and Bankside&rsquo;s home of Elizabethan-style entertainment, Shakespeare's Globe. It's too late to catch A Midsummer Night's Dream on the most enchanting stage in London, but there's much hilarity to be had this month at the&nbsp; Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park (www.openairtheatre.org) with a staging of Oscar Wilde's timeless crowd-pleaser The Importance of Being Earnest, followed next month by classic Broadway musical, Hello Dolly. <br /><br />Three Shakespeare plays taking differing looks at the idea of love are in rep at Shakespeare&rsquo;s Globe (www.shakespeares-globe.org) this month &ndash; Romeo &amp; Juliet, As You Like It and Troilus &amp; Cressida. In August the roster will be added to by Frank McGuinness's version of Euripides' classical drama Helen, while great things are expected from A New World, Trevor Griffiths's celebration of the life of 18th century radical Thomas Paine.<br /><br />Euripides is also coming to the Southbank's credit crunch-friendly free theatre space, the Scoop at More London (www.morelondon.co.uk), with a production of Medea running throughout August. Before that, a family friendly musical production of Jason and the Argonauts by award-winning theatre company The Steam Industry will be entertaining anyone who fancies turning up and taking a seat.<br /><br />If those aren't to your taste, one of the hits of the summer has been the production of JM Barrie's Peter Pan in its original setting of Kensington Gardens. Okay, so it's housed in a specially-designed tent rather than open air, but combine it with a picnic and stroll through the gardens for that al fresco sensibility.<strong><br /><br />MUSIC<br /></strong>Since a bunch of New York folkies invented the modern music festival in the early Sixties, large-scale music events have been the defining open air cultural activity &ndash; and something at which London's been getting better and better. If you weren't able to get tickets for Blur's Hyde Park shows or the Wireless Festival this weekend, there's plenty of other big gig fun to be had this summer. <br /><br />The best of the lot has to be the Somerset House Summer Series (www.somersethouse.org.uk), now firmly established as not just having the most picturesque gigs, but the best line-up too. Pop legend Grace Jones kicks things off this Thursday, with subsequent shows from the likes of Lily Allen, The Ting Tings, Bat for Lashes and Super Furry Animals amongst others, Scots upstart Calvin Harris rounding things off on 20 July. Similarly picturesque but rather more genteel &ndash; with hampers, deckchairs and an almost offensively inoffensive roster including Simply Red, Russell Watson, Gipsy Kings and Jools Holland &ndash; are the picnic concerts at Kenwood House (www.picnicconcerts.com), pictured above.<br /><br />If you want that full-on festival experience (minus camping), there's a few options, but the Love Box Weekender (www.lovebox.net) in Victoria Park on 18-19 July&nbsp; has practically as many stages as it does bands appearing. Podgy eighties pop gods Duran Duran headline, with support from everyone under the sun (including N*E*R*D, Friendly Fires, Doves and Gang of Four). However, the connoisseur's choice for festival action is going to be Field Day (www.fielddayfestivals.com), also at Victoria Park on Saturday 1 August, with an indier-than-thou line-up featuring Mogwai, The Horrors, Mystery Jets and Little Boots.<br /><br />You don't have to be standing in a courtyard or a park field to see outdoor music this summer though. How about an amphitheatre? In between plays, the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (www.openairtheatre.org) is hosting shows from cult rockers British Sea Power (16 Aug), funk weirdos Alabama 3 (23 Aug) and folk experimentalists Tunng (30 Aug). Meanwhile, The Scoop at More London, the riverside performance space beside City Hall, has a host of free lunchtime and evening performances, ranging from jazz to world music and all points in between (www.morelondon.co.uk).<strong><br /><br />SCREENINGS</strong><br />Just as with live music events, the historic courtyard at Somerset House on the Strand is top dog when it comes to hosting al fresco screenings of popular films, with its Film4 Summer Screen festival (www.somersethouse.org.uk/film). For 10 days in August a huge screen will be erected (pictured above), and while the surroundings may be ancient, the screening technology is definitely not, with state-of-the-art surround sound making the most of the courtyard's dimensions. There's a suitably diverse selection of popular films being shown, including a double bill of Seventies chillers Alien and Poltergeist, film buff favourites Don't Look Now and Wings of Desire, crowd-pleasing classics like The Shawshank Redemption and West Side Story and this year's Oscar hit Slumdog Millionaire. The series begins on 30 July with the UK premiere of Pedro Almodovar's latest, Broken Embraces, and culminates on 8 August with the original Indiana Jones blockbuster, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Under the banner Behind the Screen, there's also a series of talks and discussions relating to the films, including an interview with the veteran helmer of Don't Look Now, Nic Roeg.<br /><br />There are other options for outdoor cinema watching, however. Just across the river from Kew Gardens, the grounds of the Duke of Northumberland&rsquo;s London pad Syon House (www.syonpark.co.uk) play host to the&nbsp; Cinema Under The Stars series of populist screenings over five days from 22-26 July, including Grease, Mamma Mia, Goldfinger and Slumdog Millionaire.<br /><br />Once autumn kicks in, The Scoop at More London, having done with music and theatre, will be getting in on the open air cinema act, with free screenings of films including For a Few Dollars More, The Usual Suspects, O Brother Where Art Thou and &ndash; but of course &ndash; Slumdog Millionaire.