Nearly 40,000 people watched free open air theatre at The Scoop, London’s Green amphitheatre last year and this year the producers are looking to break the record with tragedy by Sophocles.
It’s just a week since The Scoop, built in the shadow of Boris Johnson’s office, opened for its theatre summer season and nearly 9,000 have enjoyed the shows.
There really is something for everyone. Performing Weds-Sun for the next few weeks, with a stunning backdrop of the capital’s London Bridge and the Thames in front and the iconic Shard behind, this really is a unique performance space - and did I mention that attendance is free?
The players rely on some sponsorship but get nothing from City Hall and put out the begging bowls at each performance asking for support - but it’s not forced and often the attendants will happily sit and chat about the productions, which are tremendous.
The evening starts off with an hour-long show, called Oedipus, Prince of Thebes, which is firmly aimed at families.
Before the off the cast mingle with the crowd. Philip Scott-Wallace, as Oedipus, and fellow cast member Robbie Taylor Hunt are dressed in cream flannels and braces and looked like Canary Wharf boys playing hookey from selling their hedge funds.
They’re both terribly chipper and work the youngsters in the crowd like seasoned pros.
Once it gets going we’re almost into summer panto with a very accessible and upbeat version of the Greek legends that goes down a storm.
There’s a talking bear, puppets, a selection of very silly songs, a bit of “they’re behind you!” audience participation, dancing (Gangnam style) and a very loose interpretation of a classic story. The kids just loved it - especially when they were invited down to dance with the cast. One little girl did cartwheels.
After an hour-long interval there is Greek tragedy for grown ups. Two short plays, firstly Oedipus and then Antigone.
Scott-Wallace returns, but instead of the Boy’s Own “hero for hire” who fought The Sphinx, he’s a tormented and tortured leader who unwittingly marries his mother, kills his father and sires a family of incestuous children. You know it is going to end badly.
The final performance of the night is a follow-on, with the story of Antigone, one of Oedipus’s daughters, who is similarly struck by tragedy.
Scott-Wallace does a splendid job switching from Ancient Greece’s golden boy to a desperado struggling to retain power. He’s ably matched by Samantha Lawson as the intimidating Hera, The Spinx and Queen Jocasta.
Robert Donald provides a dignified cameo as Zeus in the early show and returns later as the blind hermit Teiresias who predicts the downfall of the young prince.
The theatre company’s artistic director Phil Wilmott makes a guest appearance with a respectable turn as Jocasta’s stateman-brother, Creon, and the rest of the cast give strong support throughout. Joseph Wicks (as Archie The Bear) especially won a lot of fans among the young crowd.
Drop by with the kids if you’re in London for the day. It’s not often you get free theatre of this high quality. Shows start at 6pm and 8pm.