Welcome to the stage
Here at Regent’s Park we’ve been fortunate enough to work with hugely talented and inspiring actors each season – ok, we’re a little biased but with good reason! Amongst these actors, we’re also proud to have been the very first professional stage that some notable names have stepped onto.
Perhaps the best-known professional debuts to have taken place at the Open Air Theatre, are that of Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Paddington) and Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindler’s List). Hugh Bonneville made his professional debut in the 1986 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, understudying Ralph Fiennes’ “pale and interesting” (Financial Times) Lysander. He also appeared as an Officer in Arms and the Man and as Abram in Romeo and Juliet the same season. Fiennes had made his professional stage debut at Regent’s Park in the previous 1985 season, where he appeared as Curio in Twelfth Night. In 1986 as well as playing Lysander, he also took on the lead role of Romeo opposite Sarah Woodward in Romeo and Juliet.
Another notable professional debut at the Open Air Theatre is Dame Eileen Atkins. Best known for Cranford and Upstairs Downstairs, Atkins is a BAFTA, Emmy and three-time Olivier Award winning actress – phew! The story is that she was taken to see our production of King John in 1948. Following the performance she wrote to the director Robert Atkins (no relation!) saying that the boy who played Prince Arthur was not good enough and that she could do better. Robert Atkins wrote back and asked that she come to see him. He told her to go to drama school and to come back when she was grown up. She did, and subsequently made her stage debut in our 1953 season as Jaquenetta in Robert Atkins’ production of Love’s Labour’s Lost – the first staging of this Shakespearean title at Regent’s Park.
We are delighted that the Open Air Theatre continues to nurture performers as they cut their teeth on the professional stage. In more recent years we have been honoured to be the venue in which two award-winning women have made their debuts. In 2017, Miriam-Teak Lee appeared as Claire in Drew McOnie’s production of On The Town. She subsequently won Best Actress in a Musical at The Stage Debut Awards for this performance and now can be seen in the titular role of & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre – oh, and did we mention… she’s also gone on to win Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Olivier Awards too! Incidentally, in a twist of coincidence, she attended the same school as Dame Eileen Atkins, The Latymer School!
This year we welcomed Natasha May-Thomas as she made “a dynamic stage debut as Louise Bigelow” (The Daily Telegraph) in Timothy Sheader’s dramatic re-telling of Carousel. Natasha has since been recognised as both Best Recent Graduate and Best Supporting Female Actor in a Musical at the third annual Black British Theatre Awards. She is now appearing as a Swing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
Here at the Open Air Theatre, we love nothing more than encouraging and supporting new and emerging talent, and we look forward to offering many more actors their opportunity to make their professional debuts.
Who might that be for our 2022 season? Keep an eye on our production pages for future casting announcements.