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Harry Phillips has published 22 articles

The grass is always greener...

Harry Phillips gets misty eyed extolling the virtues of theatre out on the lawns this summer.
Harry Phillips on Thursday 23rd April 2009
Photograph: Dennis Wright

Trinity Term: a summery haze of afternoons spent languidly out on the lawns, the gentle lapping of the river against the side of an ambling punt. Long days followed by long nights locked troglodytic in one’s room as finals and prelims creep ever-closer.
As the clichés shake off dust for yet another year, I ask readers: who among us would pass up the chance to be a stereotype for the evening? And what could be more quintessentially Oxford than turning up, pitching one’s rug, unclipping one’s woven picnic basket, quaffing its contents, and enjoying first-rate student drama, whilst the sun sets gently over the spires and towers of Oxford? Yes, I am talking about that stalwart of aestival festivities: the Trinity Lawn Show.  
The Merton and Magdalen shows are generally considered to be the biggest and for time immemorial, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare have been the playwrights of choice for our al fresco thespians. Tradition, you might have noticed, sticks fast in Oxford, and accordingly this year’s programme of lavishly eye-catching costumes and received-pronunciation includes Love’s Labour’s Lost at Merton, and All’s Well That Ends Well, performed against a backdrop of Edwardian splendour in the Magdalen College President’s Garden.
An adaptation of Waugh’s  embodiment of Oxonian life, Brideshead Revisited, is also coming to Oxford. Astoundingly, this will be the first time our dreaming spires have seen a production of it, so dig out your favourite Aloysius lookalike, adorn yourself with a scarf tossed jauntily over one shoulder, and get ready to see the hallowed lawns and gargoyles of blissful Oxford transformed, before your very eyes, into the hallowed lawns and gargoyles of blissful Oxford!
Such is the mythology and protocol surrounding these unique productions that the lawn play is something budding actors and directors aspire to do. But for all the joviality and light heartedness that characterise these shows, serious work and thought underpins each line. It is all too easy to overlook the obvious difference in acoustics between theatre and garden, and losing words in amongst the hedgerows and the chaises longues is a real risk.
So expect actors who have thus far successfully restrained their inner Brian Blessed to erupt magnificently into glorious fountains of camp.
The highlight of each performance is undoubtedly the gala night on the last Saturday of the run. I will warn you all now though, tickets sell out incredibly quickly, primarily because the chance to drink champagne, nibble canapés and don black tie in an exclusive setting at a non-exclusive price is an offer few can refuse.
So keep your eyes open for news, as these romantic and rosy-coloured summer nights spent chuckling at fellow students who strut around in period costume are the cherry atop a sumptuous Oxford cake of which everybody will want a bite.