The Reader charity, based in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, has announced a season of open-air theatre shows for the summer featuring Shakespearean favourites and Sherlock Holmes.

The performances will bring one of the city’s hidden historic gems back to life. The Art-Deco style theatre stage built in 1947 hosted everything from performing dogs and ventriloquists to opera and award ceremonies, and is celebrated in a new book and podcast.

The summer season of theatre will begin on Thursday 18 July with a passionate and poetic production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by the award-winning theatre company Illyria. The show was Critic’s Choice in Edinburgh, attracted 5-star reviews in Canada and received a nomination for Best of Fringe in Vancouver.

On Sunday 4 August, critically acclaimed cycling Shakespearean actors The HandleBards present their fast and funny new production of The Comedy of Errors. The HandleBards famously carry their set, props and costumes on the back of their bikes, as they tour their environmentally sustainable Shakespeare plays across the UK.

The season continues on Tuesday 13 August with Hamlet, a new production by Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the UK’s premier all male theatre company. With a history stretching back to William Shakespeare’s original company, the company present this great play as he first saw it – in the open air, with an all male cast and Elizabethan costumes, music and dance.

Illyria return on Thursday 22 August with Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles based on the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and adapted by Oliver Gray. This cheeky adaptation promises an evening of mystery, intrigue and things that go “woof” in the night.

All shows will be performed on the Garden Theatre stage at the Mansion House in Calderstones Park. Audiences will be invited to bring along a deckchair, feast on freshly made pizzas and grazing boxes and sip drinks from the fully stocked bar under the summer sky.

Outdoor theatre in Calderstones Park has its origins in the Holidays at Home scheme during World War II, when the local community was invited to enjoy open-air dance, musical and comedy productions. These performances proved so popular that in 1947, the Art-Deco style theatre stage was added to the back of the Mansion House, designed by Liverpool’s City Architect Sir Lancelot Keay. Companies such as Liverpool Theatre Guild, Liverpool Theatre Players, Liverpool Opera Company and Merseyside Unity Theatre all performed at Calderstones before the theatre fell out of use.

The historic stage underwent a huge renovation in 2019 as part of the £5m three-year refurbishment of the Grade II Mansion House as The Reader returned the building to public use with a popular café, book shop, heritage exhibitions and busy programme of activities which aim to transform lives through the power of literature.

Jane Davis founder of The Reader said:

“I remember coming here with half a dozen members of the team and our chair of trustees and walking round the building and the site and just thinking my goodness what would this be like if you brought it to life, what, it’s fantastic, what an amazing asset.”

A team of volunteers at The Reader have just completed work to uncover the stories of the Garden Theatre through an oral history project made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The findings will be published in a new book containing old photographs and memories from local residents, alongside selected poems and literary extracts. The book will be available to buy at The Reader’s Book Shop in return for a small donation.

Contributor to the oral history project, Mary White said:

“You could hire a deckchair, which the mums did, though we always just sat on the lawn. I remember being fascinated watching a lady with a performing dog cause I’d never seen anything like it before in my life and it was probably a very simple thing but I remember the dog walking upright on its hind legs and thinking it was amazing.”

A special episode of The Reader podcast is also now available to download and features interviews with contributors to the oral history project audience members who enjoyed shows on this stage, both past and present. The episode is available to download on all popular podcast streaming services and The Reader website at

Thursday 18 July, 7pm – Illyria presents Romeo & Juliet
Sunday 4 August, 7pm – HandleBards present The Comedy of Errors
Tuesday 13 August, 7pm – The Lord Chamberlain’s Men present Hamlet
Thursday 22 August, 7pm – Illyria present The Hound of the Baskervilles

Booking is now open here.

Categories: 2024 | Arts | Family | News | Theatre | Ticketed

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