Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Theatre at Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace is once again running a summer season of outdoor theatre. The performances take place in August in the Orangery gardens, which means you can combine the theatre and some al fresco dining, perhaps after a stroll around the grounds.

This year's productions include the ever-popular Twelfth Night, performed by the Oxford Shakespeare company, and Noel Coward's Private Lives, with a West End cast starring Sophie Ward and Simon Dutton.

It's a long time since I've seen any outdoor Shakespeare: I last saw Twelfth Night at Dyffryn House near Cardiff, and it's a play particularly suited to outdoor performances, especially for Viola's entrance, supposedly washed up after being shipwrecked. It's also makes classic use of Shakespeare's fondness for including cross-dressing and mistaken identity in his comedies - and, of course, is familiar to many who have studied it at school. Timeless.

Private Lives, on the other hand, is firmly of its time, although it is generally regarded as the best of his plays. Incredibly, it was written over just four days while Coward was convalescing in the Peace Hotel in Shanghai. The first production starred Coward, alongside Laurence Olivier and Gertrude Lawrence. That must have been some performance to watch!

The plays are an interesting choice to put together: both involve unexpressed love and desire within complex relationships, but whereas in Twelfth Night these desires are resolved in declarations of marriage, in Private Lives, a recently divorced couple, accidentally reunited on their honeymoons, come to realise the bonds they still share.


Twelfth Night runs from 2-15 August and Private Lives from 16-31 August (no performances on Mondays). Tickets can be booked in person at Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London, on-line at www.seetickets.com or by calling 0870 264 3333. The shows are popular, so advance booking is recommended. Tickets are priced at £23 for adults, £15 for concessions and £8 for under 12s. Combined dinner and theatre tickets are available.

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