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Where to see outside theatre in Somerset & Dorset

Picnic hampers and fold-up chairs at the ready: it's outdoor theatre season! Here's where to see the best open-air shows, from kid-pleasing comedy to family classics.

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Bishop’s Palace, Wells

Opera Brava The Barber of Seville

Something for theatre and opera lovers alike on the South Lawns of the stunning medieval palace this summer, with seven al fresco productions. The Pantaloon’s War of the Worlds ( 7 July); Opera Brava’s Tosca (14 July) and The Barber of Seville (15 July); The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s As You Like It (24 July); the British Touring Shakespeare Company’s Dracula (31 July); and Heartbreak Productions’ Jane Eyre (11 Aug) and Awful Auntie (18 Aug).

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Brympton House, Brympton d’Evercy, near Yeovil

Quantum Theatre

This dreamy country house is a favourite Somerset wedding venue but this summer you can see Quantum Theatre’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Tale of Peter Rabbit & Benjamin Bunny (26 June) on the lawns.

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Dunster Castle, Dunster

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men As You Like It

The historic castle with subtropical gardens may have spectacular views of the West Somerset coast but all eyes will be glued to the stage with these two shows: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s As You Like It (27 July) and the Three Inch Fool’s highly flammable, musical version of The Gunpowder Plot (17 August).

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Ecos Amphitheatre, Frome

Illyria Pirates of Penzance

Al fresco theatre in a stone amphitheatre – what could be more atmospheric? Watch Illyria’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (19 June) and, written specially for the Frome Festival, the Merlin Theatre/Kairos Theatre’s co-production of The Haunting of Richard III (7–9 July), commemorating the 10th anniversary of the discovery of Richard’s body in Leicester and the 30th anniversary of the amphitheatre itself. Ilyria are back with The Pirates of Penzance (23 July); Folksy’s Alice in Wonderland ( 30 July) and Much Ado About Nothing (7 Aug)

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Forde Abbey, near Chard

Folksy Theatre Much Ado About Nothing

No monks at the former Cistercian Abbey, just a Cheshire cat, Mad Hatter, a bad-tempered Queen of Hearts and some Shakespearean high jinx with Folksy Theatre’s Alice in Wonderland (29 July) and Much Ado About Nothing (2 Aug).

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Fyne Court, Broomfield, near Bridgwater

Theatre6 Great Expectations

Three plays from three great writers: Bram Stoker, Dickens and Shakespeare in the heart of the Quantocks. The British Touring Shakespeare present Dracula (3 July) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (13 Aug) A trio of actor/musicians from Theatre6 play all the parts in Great Expectations (9 July).

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Hestercombe, Cheddon Fitzpaine, near Taunton

The Folksy Theatre goes down a rabbit hole on the Orangery Lawn with Alice in Wonderland (28 July) and get themselves tied in knots in Much Ado About Nothing (14 August).

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The Holburne Museum, Bath

Sarah-Louise Young Julie Madly Deeply

The biggie. The Garden Theatre Festival, Bath’s newest open-air theatre festival, running from 29 July to 13 August, in the grounds of the Holburne. There are 20 shows – from a cheeky cabaret about Julie Andrews to a collection of monologues by award-winning playwright Philip Ridley ‘celebrating the ‘glittering dark’. Ooh er. See more.

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Montacute House, near Yeovil

The magnificent Pantaloons take on HG Well’s War of the Worlds (25 June) and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing ( 1 July) in the grounds of the Elizabethan manor house.

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The Octagon, Yeovil

The Last Baguette King Arthur

The popular Yeovil theatre is hosting three open-air performances this summer: the all-male company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s As You Like It (29 June); The Last Baguette’s King Arthur (6 Aug); and Chapterhouse’s Pride & Prejudice. (27 Aug).

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Tyntesfield, Wraxall

The Handlebards Twelfth Night

It’s Shakespeare on the croquet lawn at the grand Victorian pile, with cycling actors The Handlebards’ Twelfth Night (25 June) and The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s As You Like It (23 July).

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Walled Gardens of Cannington

Quantum Theatre A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Something for everyone at the historic gardens, now part of Bridgwater College. Quantum Theatre’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (30 July); Folksy Theatre’s Alice in Wonderland (3 Aug) and Much Ado About Nothing (13 Aug); and one for the littlies, The Tale of Peter Rabbit & Benjamin Bunny (27 Aug).

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DORSET

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Athelhampton House & Gardens, Dorchester

Chapterhouse Romeo & Juliet

In the grounds of the Tudor manor house, Rapunzel lets down her hair (25 June); young love blooms in Chapterhouse’s Romeo & Juliet (13 Aug); and the audience solve a murder mystery in Heartbreak Productions’ Much Ado About Murder (21 July). Later in the year, stars of the Royal Ballet come to perform excerpts from classical and contemporary works. Sounds magical. (10 & 11 Sept).

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The Bear of Burton, near Christchurch

Mohamed Hassan, PIxabay

Makes a change from the grounds of a country house: Shakespeare and opera – The Taming of the Shrew (5 & July), plus Rogue Opera’s Opera Cabaret (the big tunes, the tear-jerkers, the crowd-pleasers, the drinking songs, natch) – in a pub garden (27 July).

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Brownsea Island, near Poole

The Poole-based Brownsea Open Air Theatre company has been performing Shakespeare since 1964! This year’s production on the beautiful National Trust-owned island is Twelfth Night (27 July to 12 Aug).

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Corfe Castle, near Swanage

Chapterhouse Cinderella

Dress up to go to the ball for Chapterhouse theatre company’s Cinderella (28 July); fly to Neverland with Illyaria’s Peter Pan (4 Aug); and have a laugh with The Three Inch Fools’ Twelfth Night (11 Aug) and The Gunpowder Plot (18 Aug).

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Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch

It’s a varied programme in the grounds of the historic property, with The Pantaloons’ Much Ado About Nothing (30 June); David Walliams’ Awful Auntie (14 Aug); Three Inch Fools’Twelfth Night (15 Aug); and rabbits getting up to no good in The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny (28 Aug).

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Kingston Lacey, near Wimborne

Chapterhouse Pride & Prejudice

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s As You Like It (28 July); Boxtree Productions’ The Three Musketeers (4 Aug); Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s Pride & Prejudice (12 Aug); ; and Illyria’s Peter Pan (18 Aug) – and outdoor cinema later in the year – in the grounds of the Italianate mansion .

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Mapperton House, near Beaminster

The Castle Theatre Company Comedy of Errors

Outdoor entertainment at ‘the nations finest manor house’ (according to Country Life): Alison Carter sings songs from the shows (10 July); renowned cellist Stephen Isserlis is in concert (9 Aug); Castle Theatre Company’s Comedy of Errors (17 July); and Kick In The Head’s Three Men in a Boat (21 Aug).

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Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis

Oscar Wilde’s entire The Importance of Being Earnest performed by just two actors from The Slapstick Picnic. It’s an outdoor show but in case of rain, it’ll move inside.

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