Living set at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is set to stage its most eco-friendly season of shows yet.

A meadow of native grasses will be planted in a ring around the theatre’s central performance area to create a living, moving set within which to stage this year’s three productions.

Both plug plants and sowed seeds will be used to create the garden within a garden which will be nurtured and grow throughout the three-month summer season of plays.

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre opens on Saturday, 29 May with Glyn Maxwell’s new adaptation of The Jungle Book. Shakespeare’s farce Merry Wives of Windsor runs from 4 June to 30 August, and Pride and Prejudice joins the plays in repertory from 9 July.

Set and costume designer Jessica Curtis is working on the ambitious plans in partnership with a team of volunteer gardeners, and with the support of Grosvenor Park and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Hardy and quick-growing native varieties will be used with the design team only having a week to install the planting before the popular theatre-in-the-round opens to audiences next month.

Plants which have been used for centuries as natural dyes will also be included in the meadow and it is hoped they will provide natural dyes for both costume fabrics and the recycled materials which will be repurposed and incorporated in the set designs.

The planting will form an evocative backdrop for Mowgli’s jungle adventures and for Shakespeare’s riotous comedy where the action unfolds during one memorable garden party. It will also become part of the beautiful grounds surrounding the homes inhabited by Jane Austen’s vivid cast of characters.

Wood bark chippings which make up the performance surface are already recycled at the end of each season to become mulch which is then used within the park.

And this year, along with seeds being harvested for future use, sections of the matured meadow of grasses will also be offered to both the park and to community gardens so it has a second life after the open-air theatre ends.

Jessica Curtis explains: “We’ve had conversations with the local wildlife trust and with the park about what plants sit most happily in Cheshire and feed the local pollinators, and also to think about the plants which were originally intended to sit in that space.

“Even though this is one space within which we will tell three stories, the joy of it is that it will bloom and grow as we go through the season, constantly changing.”

Grosvenor Park was created by celebrated Victorian landscape designer Edward Kemp, who started his career working with Joseph Paxton on nearby Birkenhead Park, and by Chester architect John Douglas.

The 20-acre Green Flag Award park was opened in 1867 on a sandstone bluff overlooking the River Dee.

It is Grade II* listed in recognition of its place as one of the finest examples of Victorian parks in the country, and it was restored to its former glory in 2014 with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Much of the current planting design is in keeping with Kemp’s original vision.

Storyhouse has staged Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre annually since 2010.

Last summer, despite Covid restrictions, the show went on with a joyous, stripped back performance of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

The 2021 season opens with a new adaptation of Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book, written by Glyn Maxwell and directed by Gitika Buttoo.

John Young directs Merry Wives of Windsor, while Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice has been adapted by Deborah McAndrew and will be directed by Conrad Nelson.

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