11 July 2022

Rachel’s Theatre Tour Challenge – at Thorington Theatre (in a wood)

By Rachel Sloane

When I started this challenge to myself – to visit every theatre in Suffolk in 2022 – there was one theatre that was top of my list. It didn’t exist when I originally did the challenge in 1988 for BBC Radio Suffolk. In fact, this outdoor theatre was only created in 2020. Mark and Lindy O’Hare walked in the wood near their cottage on a farm near Halesworth, and thought that the bomb crater left there in World War Two, between the trees, would make a wonderful amphitheatre.

They created the stage and tiered seating from timber, coppiced from trees on the site, and it is quite breath-taking when you see it below you, having followed a woodchip path from the parking field. They now run the privately owned theatre… and it is beautiful.

Seating 350 people in a horse-shoe shape, there is a wheelchair platform, a bar serving local refreshments and some clean compostable toilets.

Welcoming picnickers, (there are some picnic tables on the parking field) and well-behaved dogs, the seats are unreserved, and raincoats and umbrellas are useful if it’s raining (The Show Must Go On…. unless the weather is REALLY bad when, if the show has to be cancelled, there are refunds given).

I went on one of the hottest afternoons of the year and, as the theatre was only two thirds full, as the sun moved around, those who were sweltering slipped into shadier seats! We could spot the regulars – they had taken a cushion with them! For £3 you can hire a backrest – and it was well worth the money.

Everyone has a great view of the stage and the performers must appreciate the atmospheric setting amongst the trees (the seating is constructed around trees still growing there), with the audience and their reactions so near. People were there of all ages, including some children, and we spotted a small, very well behaved, hen party too. (The bride’s sash was the give-away!)

The summer programme includes Shakespeare, classical, opera and folk music, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and family shows such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and David Walliams ‘Awful Auntie’. Most are only at Thorington for one or two performances, so it is easy to miss something good as a tour passes through. Watch the website and social media.

We are already planning a return visit.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, presented by The Dukes Theatre Company.

If ever there was a perfect setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream it has to be a theatre in a  wood! This Shakespeare favourite is one I have seen several times and its always interesting to see what interpretation it will be given. Will it be traditionally set and involve doublet and hose…. Or even be located in China, as I saw once? 

Four young lovers, some aspiring actors preparing to perform for the Duke and Duchess, a fairy kingdom, a magic potion and a donkey. What would The Dukes Theatre Company do with all that?

The cast of six, playing multiple roles, started in 1940’s suits, dresses, and coats, but the fairies Oberon, Titania and Puck were dressed in black, Game of Thrones style.  Oberon donned his black sunglasses when he was ‘invisible’… and the accompanying fairies were represented by masks. It sounds bonkers… but it worked! In full audience view, the actors changed costumes (and voices), some playing four different characters, leaping up levels or down via trapdoors. There was music and magical sound effects. It was funny, fast-moving and great fun….

Congratulations to all the cast….Joanna Bending, Daniel Crespin, Hayley Doherty, Chris Donnelly, Finnbar Hayman, and Ben Simon.

The friend accompanying me admitted she had never seen Shakespeare performed live and wasn’t sure she would enjoy – or understand – it. She was spell-bound, loved the beauty of the language, the humour, could hear every word… and was thrilled that she had accepted my invitation. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on a 35 venue tour, performing in parks, castle grounds,  churches and gardens. Details: https://www.thedukestheatrecompany.co.uk

Sunday 10th July 2022 at Thorington Theatre.