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Singing in the rain

In the last week or so I’ve seen three outdoor shows and got soaked to the skin twice. It’s what you do in Britain – part of summer’s rich tapestry.

I was at Tonbridge Castle for Illyria Theatre’s rather good The Merchant of Venice a day or two after the weather broke. That night we had thunder, lightening and rain. Perhaps they should have been doing Macbeth. As it was Portia’s “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” acquired a new resonance and raised an audience chuckle. The evening began dryish but threatening. By the time we got to Act 5 we were sitting in a deluge.

How amazing it is that under these inclement circumstances the vast majority of a stoical British audience will sit cheerfully to the end and then applaud enthusiastically before they pack up their sodden camping chairs, not quite waterproof rugs and dripping macs! That night I think it even surprised the cast (glad I didn’t have to get their costumes dry as well as my camping chairs) who thanked the audience at the end for sitting it out.

A few days later I was at the same company’s stonkingly good The Pirates of Penzance (different cast) at Coolings Nursery. And it rained. Again. A lot. Did it bother the audience? Not much. They smiled, clapped, munched their damp picnics and lapped up the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan immaculately well done.  As I plodded back to the car with our sodden stuff – amongst hundreds of other happy people it struck me that actually the rain is part of the fun. It simply wouldn’t be the same in Provence, Tuscany or Andulacia where they get months of reliable dry sunshine. Very boring. That’s not how we do things here. After all, in Britain we don’t have a climate. We just have weather.

The night after Pirates I was at Little Shop of Horrors in Regents Park – another very fine show in a different way. Not a drop of rain all evening and do you know what? I was almost disappointed, not least because it’s so interesting to observe audience reactions.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that we do open air theatre in this country in defiance – celebration even – of our volatile weather and enjoy every minute of it although there must be some tricky health and safety decisions for stage management sometimes. Only once (a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park a few years back) have I been at a show which had to be abandoned because of the rain. Most companies paddle energetically on to the end. I’m quite glad really that I have only to sit in the audience.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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