As the weather offers glorious heat then gales, localised flooding then flakes of Welsh snow, winter wardrobes are packed up, brought out, added to and then ceremonially burnt, during which a dozen international artists descend on the buildings of Chichester, work in a haze of fumes, and then disappear in a single weekend. After such dizzying activity it is a relief that Osborne maintain their flow of consistent, formidable progress. To arrive each day at Chichester Festival Theatre at the moment is to watch a child reach adulthood in fast forward; each view of the Theatre is a novelty, the speed of development like watching a video montage.
The Festival Theatre has been a rather forlorn sight until recently. The high-level cladding was stripped away and the auditorium ravaged with the elements; with the removal of everything except the concrete frame, it would have taken the most faithful lover to call the building beautiful. But the cruel skeleton was quickly fleshed-out again – panels have been placed over the gaping holes, and a little civility returns to its aspect.
Inside the concrete ribs the auditorium is in a state of inhospitable reduction, although a small nomadic bat did create a temporary home for itself behind some panels, but even s/he soon moved on to less industrious quarters. An enormous scaffold – the “bird-cage”- has been erected on the bare seat-rake, supporting a platform within reach of the ceiling: the frame-work from which the rig is hung is being replaced and refurbished.
The extension has taken on its final shape. The footprint has grown a leg. The concrete is just about to be poured to form the first floor and the supporting walls rise up and up. One can start to see what views will appear from dressing room windows, how first-act entrances will be achieved from backstage, how scenery will be elevated and stored. It’s an exciting time, and change is happening swiftly.
Aside from RENEW, art has descended on Chichester Festival Theatre. The five star production of The Pajama Game opened during the last week of April and has been a tonic to a gloomy winter. Universally adored, a song and dance marathon, the production has sold-out. Absolutely. Unequivocally. There’s nothing but returns to hope for now, and there are very few of those. Over the early May bank holiday weekend, Chichester was briefly one of the most cutting edge cities in the country. A horde of internationally-acclaimed street artists created a series of staggering artworks on buildings across the city. Chichester Festival Theatre gave up its storage facility on the North Street circular to the artist RUN; Christiaan Nagel placed one of his signature ‘Shrooms’ on the Minerva (the day before the gale force winds drove the Osborne workforce from the Festival Theatre – the Shroom is thankfully still in place); Thierry Noir brought his world-famous faces to our hoardings, familiar to millions when he painted 17km of them on the Berlin Wall.
Chichester Festival Theatre is both a place of current progress and imminent excitement. A trackway has just been laid from the corner of Broyle Road, branches of it reaching onto the Oaklands Park grass. By the time I next write this blog there will be movement beyond the first line of trees; a workforce constructing a theatre with a fleeter foot; and a grand excitement for a unique experience. In short, Theatre in the Park is coming…