The longer the Festival Theatre is open, the more people come through the doors, the more this blog becomes pleasantly redundant. There are a decreasing number of people for whom the new Festival Theatre is a mystery, a decreasing amount of the Festival Theatre building which is ‘in progress’. It is now only administration which remains bubble-wrapped, awaiting the staff to move over from the Steven Pimlott.
The Amadeus Gala proved, if proof were needed, that the new building can happily house 1,300 audience members, that the acoustics have improved beyond judgement, that the auditorium feels almost like a new space. And as autumn approaches and Osborne inches out the door (hesitating only to assist on snagging) the theatre starts to work smoothly and successfully. For a section of CFT’s audience the main house is about musicals: Guys and Dolls has opened to rave reviews, and the technicality of the production is a cut above anything that could have been attempted pre-refurbishment.
Staff and audiences alike are learning how the new building works. In the old house staff and crew knew every limitation of the building, every square inch which could be exploited. The new building is still something of an unknown quantity; limits have not yet been reached: at what point can one say ‘no’ to a set or lighting designer. It will be exciting to see what can be achieved in this new space, which old boundaries can be broken.
As far as the audience is concerned, for a new building of this size, most things are working very successfully: catering is warming to the task, keys are unlocking the correct doors, the new Sennheiser system is working, the vast majority of seats in the auditorium are regulated to the correct temperature, the accessibility has improved beyond measure. And everything which is working almost perfectly, teams of people are working to remove that ‘almost’.
An audience in a new building will always unearth problems which no amount of planning could have foreseen, and as such new signage is being designed and printed, more picnic benches are being bought for the park, tests are being re-tested.
It has been a pleasure to watch the teams from Comley, Osborne and CFT work towards the fulfilment of this project. It is easy to be sentimental about theatre, and equally so to eulogise about a future not yet performed. But it’s probably best to just look forward to the next show, and then the next, and to watch the progression of an organisation whose technical offer is now very much in line with its artistic ambitions.
Needless to say- to Chichester Festival Theatre, much good luck.