England, UK, Wanderlust

Open air theatre at Morden Hall Park

My daughter’s been on a cruise. She’s been on a vintage fire truck. She’s sat on a camel – even if she got straight off. She’s been on planes galore, to the cinema and met some of the cast of Madagascar. Lucky little bunny, she is.

My daughter running in to one of this summer's Morden Hall Park events, where she saw her first theatre performance at an open air production in the National Trust property rose garden

But she’s never been to the theatre. Not until this week, at least. It’s not that we’d avoided it, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt comfortable with the thought that she might sit through a proper performance of something – and more to the point, understand it.

So an open air theatre, for a performance of The Jungle Book aimed at kids, where they were actively encouraged to join in noisily, was the perfect first experience.

It also gave me a great excuse to visit Morden Hall Park, one of the few National Trust properties nearby which we haven’t managed to see – mostly because it’s a slightly tortuous route through bits of south-west London.

View of the grounds at Morden Hall park, where my daughter saw her first theatre performance at an open air production in the National Trust property rose garden

And even the weather joined in making it a great day: the danger of open air theatres (having sat through various ones in Regent’s Park) is that it’s glorious in the sun and not nearly so glorious in the rain. Fortunately there were just enough clouds in the sky to stop me frazzling to a crisp but still sunshine to spare.

I’d even remembered to pack a mini picnic for my daughter. All that was left was to find a good spot in the rose garden and wait for the metaphorical curtain to rise.

Bagheera in a break between scenes of the Jungle Book at Morden Hall park, where my daughter saw her first theatre performance at an open air production in the National Trust property rose garden

Performed by Sixteen Feet Productions, the play is based on Rudyard Kipling’s original Jungle Book stories, rather than the Disney film. Minnie loves the original movie, especially the songs, so I did have a moment’s worry about whether she’d get upset at the lack of the Bare Necessities and singing orang-utans.

I needn’t have worried. After the young audience was encouraged to howl like a wolf right at the start, she was hooked, mesmerised by the actors bringing the animals to life including Bandar-log monkeys and jackal Tabaqui. Shere Khan had just the right amount of menace without terrifying the watchers – it’s aimed at over fives, and recommended not for under threes – while Baloo and Bagheera had plenty of fun trying to keep Mowgli (this time a girl) safe.

A promenade theatre piece, it meant we all dashed from place to place around the garden too, following the action before returning to our original set of picnic rugs. Minimal props, some clever costumes and music meant it wasn’t just the kids who were transported far from south London.

Whether they all appreciated the message about sharing the world with the animals, I’m not sure – as an adult, I couldn’t help feeling a certain sympathy for the lamed tiger whose jungle home is being destroyed by man.

The 90 minutes flew by and suddenly we were back in Morden Hall Park again with a bit more time to explore. The site is slightly unusual in that the park is open to the public, so there’s no fee to enter but equally none of the usual information you get as you go in. As far as I could tell, the house is off-limits, although there are bigger signs with maps showing what we could find in the grounds.

We had a bit of bad luck, as the adventure playground was shut due to emergency tree surgery but there was another small playground with a wooden boat which kept Minnie amused. The rose garden itself was closed outside the performances too, so I was glad we’d had a very quick look.

My daughter on the bridge at Morden Hall park, where she saw her first theatre performance at an open air production in the National Trust property rose garden

And while the promised I Spy maps weren’t available either, we could tick another of our 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ off the list by playing Pooh sticks – quite a few games in fact. Then Minnie decided the river, so clear that we could see the bottom, was home to crocodiles, many of whom needed feeding with pebbles.

Not having brought her swimming costume, I had to divert her from having a paddle afterwards – fortunately there’s a café which had a good stock of ice cream, and I even managed to snaffle a table outside where there are some lovely vegetable-themed little games for kids to play.

Dusty, smiling and having had so much fun that she fell asleep in the car on the way home, I asked my mini critic for her verdict. She thought hard, then announced very decidedly, “I liked it.” From a four-year-old, that’s practically a standing ovation.

Need to know
Entry to Morden Hall Park is free, tickets to events such as the open air theatre often need to be booked in advance and have a separate cost – for example, ours were £12 and £8 respectively.

You can see some of the National Trust’s other open-air theatre suggestions around the country, as well as other upcoming events at Morden Hall Park on their website. Or if you’re in the south east and London, check out a few other National Trust properties for similar fun days out later this summer, including Danny Champion of the World at Cliveden, Punch & Judy at Claremont Landscape Garden in Surrey


Disclosure: my tickets to the performance of the Jungle Book were courtesy of the National Trust. All opinions and miniature critics are my own.

All images copyright MummyTravels