I’m lucky enough to live near The Chichester Festival Theatre. Built in 1962 it was born from the inspiration of a local councillor after seeing a television programme about a community theatre being built in Stratford Ontario. Obviously a man of vision, he was an opthalmic optician after all, and a lover of the theatre, he possessed the energy and drive needed to make such a vision reality. He even managed to achieve his ambitious goal of getting Sir Lawrence Olivier as its first artistic director. I moved down to this area in 1974 and throughout that time I have visited the theatre many times to see some memorable productions, many go on to run in London or the provinces and some even to Broadway. I have watched it grow and flourish, another smaller fringe theatre was opened in 1989 then there were the lean years when it dwindled there was a danger almost unthinkable after such achievement, that it would close in the early years of 2000. But after Jonathan Church’s appointment in 2005 it has gone from strength to strength with a wide, varied and interesting selection of productions ranging from musicals to Chekov to contemporary. You can read more about the CFT here
Theatre has always held a fascination for me, a job in the scenery or costume department would have suited me down to the ground. In my day job as a restorer of decorated furniture I have had to make things look what they are not and many of these skills would have been required in painting scenery. Wheneve I attend a production I am looking as keenly at the costumes and scenery as I am at the actors performance.
I have on occasion travelled to London of course to see the odd production and the joy of that is the theatres in London were built much earlier and therefore are much grander and more ornate inside giving me an extra frisson. The theatre is to me a magical place, so much more than any television production or film it delivers atmosphere. The CFT has no curtain as it has an apron stage, before the performance even starts often there is incidental action taking place on stage setting the scene giving the audience an opportunity to observe the surroundings and get acquainted with the mood. Once the lights go down and the stage is lit the play takes over. Often I have been completely riveted by the performances almost forgetting to breathe.
Having the theatre literally up the road from me has allowed me to see some superlative productions without any effort. I saw Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber a while ago and found the whole thing satisfyingly macabre and dark, this week I went to see ‘The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui‘ by Berthold Brecht another dark and sinister story with a grave warning at the end. The images conjured up by the main character played by Henry Goodman due to the lighting costumes and performance were so dramatically effective I wanted to snap them so I could study them later at my leisure. In amongst the darkness there was a lot of laughter and humour; the best way in my experience to drive the story home.
I have seen lighter productions at the CFT, there was the completely outrageous Circus Oz many years ago and a few musicals. I also was lucky enough to see ‘Tango Passion’ there on tour, quite breathtaking as well as Paco Pena with his flamenco dance troupe, a different style but equally as passionate.Over the years I have come to realise that the things that appeal most and I remember longest are the the productions that make me think and look into those deep, murky, dingy corners of the soul both visually and musically. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to see more than I otherwise would have.