Coton Manor Gardens in rural Northamptonshire proved a surprisingly intimate setting for the county's Royal Youth Theatre production of Alice: Through the Looking Glass, directed by David Zoob.
By having Alice speak directly to the audience, ushering and hurrying them from lawn to hedged lawn, the production created an apt sense of disorientation. As important was the quality of the performances. Technical confidence was apparent in the audibility and in the lusty solo singing that, on one occasion, survived the backing tape's failure.
But the cast also displayed the confidence that comes from knowing exactly why they are doing as they do, and in this case following the crazy logic of events. Backup from the Royal's technical staff enhanced the Hatter's tea party with a giant teapot down which Dormouse was dropped, and a banquet table which the cast swiftly demolished to make the wonder world vanish and restore normality.
In Salisbury, a three-week summer school for some 60 young people culminated in a grand single setting on the cathedral green for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Though the large area overcame some single voices, group speech, song and movement were well handled.
The transition from happy wedding to the cold world of the Mariner's tale came through a sudden change in movement from dance to angularity, while later, images of slimy things, and the sinister supernatural ships encountered on the voyage were vividly created through group images. In contrast, the albatross was a single performer, clinging at key moments round the Mariner's neck.
At 45 minutes, Salisbury's show was just over half the playing time of Northamptonshire's, but both lengths seemed right for the material and created a sense of substance without outstaying their welcome. Though the promenade involved some sophisticated stage management, the lighting for both shows was simple.
There is an appetite for plays that do not demand sitting in dark theatres, and the open-air production could be a highlight for a school, as well as a youth theatre.