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Visiting Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT)

The Friends of Theatre On The Row recently visited the Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) to see how this amazingly successful outdoor performance space works and pick up some advice for our Lane End project.

Article by Kath Gill

BOAT was the vision of Brighton playwright, showman and construction engineer, Adrian Bunting, who died in 2013, aged 47.  During his last days, he threw himself into realising his dream of creating a permanent open-air theatre for Brighton. He left his life savings of £18,000 to kick-start the project.

Working with supporters and partners, Adrian’s friends negotiated the design and planning process, established BOAT as a charity and ensured an additional £100,000 was raised through stand-up comedy benefits, an art auction and many generous individual donations. In October 2014 planning permission was granted. Construction began in January 2015.  The theatre was opened in the same year and is now a hugely successful venue.

BOAT has a 6 month season from April - October and there truly is something from everyone - stand-up comedy, drag and music shows, family shows, Shakespeare, original touring and local community productions.  There are productions on several nights of every week.

Its season this year runs from April 8th to September 25th (170 days) and during the run there are 84 different shows over 119 days. 

Here’s just a small selection of what’s on offer in the 2022 season.













BOAT is a registered charity and relies wholly on ticket sales, donations and bar takings to stay afloat!  The manager, Will Mytum, showed us round and was extremely helpful. His post and that of operations manager are paid posts (and there may be one or two others) and they rely heavily on an enthusiastic team of volunteers for FOH, the bar etc.

It’s situated in Brighton’s Dyke Road Park and was built on the site of an old bowling green. The relatively simple initial construction has been developed over the years and donations have helped them to expand their technical facilities, improve site lighting, employ more staff and run a Christmas season. The most recent project has been to build an accessible toilet block and a proper box office. 

The bowling green had a clubhouse and this has been retained and is now the changing room/green room for the performing artists. 

The bar is an old shipping container and is fun - but I didn’t get any photos!

There is no onsite parking and they don’t have a Box Office number - recommending that all booking is done online. 


The “theatre” itself is a simple and elegant structure. As you’ll see from the photographs, there is neither a roof nor a stage. The decision not to have any shelter for either actors or performers is not purely a financial one - they are keen to retain the experience of being truly open air.

The large back wall provides 2 entrances/exits and can be used to hang backcloths, screens etc and is also a way of providing sound-proofing to the performance area, which is horse-shoe shaped with tiered seating on three sides. 

There is a moat separating the performance area from the audience, which ensures that the audience don’t ‘invade the pitch’! It can also be used for setting lighting, storage of props/scenery and as part of the action. When there is a lot of rain it is also a good way to run water off the performance area.  

The grass on the stage and seating is artificial for obvious reasons and is very easy to maintain - only needing to be replaced every few years. 













The tiered seating, made of banked earth and wooden supports, is simple and effective and we estimated can seat about 200.  When we visited we did find that the lack of back support may be a problem for anyone with any back issues, as the depth of the tiers means that it’s not really feasible to sit right back on them - but it does make them great for pre-show picnics!

We were advised to use oak wood if finances allowed, as it’s much more durable than other types of wood. BOAT didn’t use oak and are already having to replace some of the timbers. 


The lighting set-up is quite basic as you can see from the photograph. A table is erected at the top rear of the seating with an awning for protection from the elements. Electric cables have been run underground to provide power. BOAT has deliberately kept it simple. They argue that, as all productions take place in Spring/Summer, the long daylight hours make most lighting unnecessary. 

We visited on May 26th and saw a touring production of Murder on the Improvised Express, which involved lots of audience participation. There was a large and enthusiastic audience of all ages, including lots of school-age children and families. 

We came away from the visit feeling very positive that our vision of an open-air theatre in Lane End, similar in concept and design to BOAT, is achievable. 

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