The Renewed Festival Theatre


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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.

Victor Manley
Campaign Coordinator

Testing… Testing… Testing…


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On 18 June the refurbished Festival Theatre welcomed its first audience – more than 800 local schoolchildren were invited to join us in the restored darkness to watch Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s production of The Witches. With very few having had any previous experience of the Festival Theatre, they were the perfect audience to put the Theatre through its paces.

The Witches test event

Around ten days before this pre-adolescent whirlwind, the foyer and auditorium had been completed by Osborne and handed over to CFT. Since then theatre technicians, like Odysseus returning to Ithaca, had set about the new auditorium vigorously installing and testing to ensure it was all fit for use.

Once The Witches had departed it was time for a few more tests, an evening of comedy for the builders, contractors and sub-contractors, followed the next day by Sandi Toksvig, and finally a selection of the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. Each event gave the Theatre a chance to try out different elements, to interact with a different audience and to adjust to inevitable niggles. Every thought and comment has been logged and will be considered and acted upon. Such is the real purpose of these ‘test’ evenings.

However there will be no time for lengthy consultation or deliberation, for on 12 July, the Theatre will fling wide its doors for the first of its previews of Amadeus, and audiences will experience the full, finished product of so many months of work. Now, with the extension and refurbishment no longer left to the imagination, but physically realised, the Theatre has softened. It has lost a little of its PT Barnum meets Erno Goldfinger hostility, and instead seems light and open. The eye is drawn in and across the foyer and there is space to sit and move, and in the auditorium the audience now feels closer, the stage surrounded.

All of the dashed and dotted lines, treated like glyphs on the Rosetta stone, printed on vast lengths of paper, and tucked beneath the arms of management and visiting architects, have become objects that were built and have a purpose. And although some of us pored over these plans, and expressed them to interested friends and visitors, it now seems there was simply no way of visualising the completed structure; certainly no way of imagining the improved acoustics in the auditorium, or the gentle drop in pressure as the lift descends into the foyer.

The refurbishment is an achievement for so many individuals to be proud of.

All of whom I’m sure, will receive such pleasure from the crowds of people who will enjoy watching productions here, but before that there are jobs to be done, staff to be trained and a few little kinks to be ironed out. It will be a glorious relief when the audience hush falls on 12 July, and an incredible achievement when the house lights dim in that reimagined space.

Victor Manley
Campaign Coordinator


Concrete Theatre

When a theatre production opens in a big house, preparation follows something of a pattern (albeit one with almost infinite variations): months or even years of planning take place, and then a slow swell of activity, culminating in a short period of intense work and action when everyone involved draws on all of their experience and skill, works unsociable hours and gets rather emotional, before the opening night and (hopefully) joy at the creation and the reaction of the audience. There are many similarities with the construction of a new building when the deadline for completion is absolute and immovable. So it is at Chichester with the Festival Theatre.

Dozens of workmen work swiftly and skilfully, many of them through the night, to get to a place where the building can welcome an audience again. Organising this round-the-clock activity must be like tracking bees out of the hive, but somehow the synchronicity is sublime, and indeed the work has reached the ‘men with clipboards’ phase, which always means things are almost ready to use. The dramatically titled ‘Life Systems’ (such as ventilation and electrics, namely those that keep occupants safe and comfortable) are being tested and witnessed, as is the rather more aptly named ‘Building Management System’ which tracks boilers, heating, lighting etc., maintaining records of temperature across the system and regulating automatically, rather like an innocuous Hal 9000.

Of course if one were to walk past the Theatre it would appear as though there was a huge amount left to be done, but the external landscaping always happens last. Adding to the apparent industry in front of the Theatre are the concrete repairs, however the end is in sight at last – with work to the front beam due to be completed in a week’s time before testing again in June.

For those of us who have watched the work with close attention for the last eighteen months it is almost beyond expression that in less than two months the Festival Theatre will be in action again. Miles and miles of protective sheets, coverings and bags protect every surface or finish which could be chipped or scratched or discoloured between now and the 12 July. Indeed in preparation for this momentous event an artist has climbed a ladder – Antoni Malinowski (below) has been adding his careful preparations to the white walls and ceilings – drawing colour from the uniformly restrained finishes, while backstage in the scene-dock, black is supreme, as the surfaces receive their matt finishes.

Antoni Malinowski

In between the brick and mortar, porcelain and wood, other things go on almost undisturbed, as they seem to do, year in and out: a production in the Minerva Theatre, Stevie, has received excellent reviews; a Chichester Festival Theatre musical, The Pajama Game, has opened in the West End to raves; and in a small corner section of unturfed ground near the windows of the Box Office, bees have taken residence in a small system of holes in the ground. It is all so expected it feels like nature.

It will be an extraordinary moment when we as an audience finally push open the double doors into the foyer to buy programmes and ice creams, to hang coats and drink glasses of wine, and then, finally, to watch theatre. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself with this final stage of anticipation, and perhaps we should enjoy the muscular ballet that’s currently taking place in and all around the Festival Theatre, because soon once the activity has died away, we will grow so used to the finished building, we will forget all of this drama ever took place.

Victor Manley
Campaign Co-ordinator

In Sight of the Finish Line


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Priority booking at Chichester has become in the last few years, a sort of glorious mania, pre-empting the excitement of the season itself, taking on a little of the spirit of theatre – booking is now a kind of ‘blink and you miss it’ live event. And like all great events there is joy to be found in the anticipation. This year especially there is a truly theatrical pause between booking and watching, as we await our new leading lady (fresh and blooming) to make her grand entrance in July. Until then we have the ever-reliable Minerva to keep us going, and this exceptional season opens with Hugh Whitemore’s Stevie. And as audiences walk into the Minerva, they will do so over new blocked paving – the very furthest extent of the refurbishment wave that has its start in the Festival Theatre.

Much is completed in the main house now, and is just awaiting its great reveal. The carpeting and new handrails have been installed in the auditorium, and the refurbished seats have been reinstated, and now wait calmly under acres of plastic sheeting.

Water has entered the miles of gleaming pipe-work for the first time, and soon the heating will be switched on for the first time, and workmen will stand listening to the gurgling like a hundred expectant fathers. The ground-source heat-pump, often the target of speculation and reinvention, has been flushed through for the first time.

Patches of finished work are appearing daily – the scene dock has been painted and the flooring is going down; the new triangular Terrace Bar (the one which abuts the park) has half of its cockle-shell paving down which will flow out into the outside space; the very complex electrical installation continues in all sections, constantly. In total over 180 workmen give their utmost effort to getting the Theatre across the finish line, from plan to physical object.

The most noticeable refurbishment, taking the form of a kind of heritage ping-pong match, is the concrete repairs to the front of the original hexagon. Visually there have been various advances and retreats, but there has always been a sense that the ideal solution is approaching. Attaching new concrete, while attempting to make it look like 50-year old weathered concrete, to a mix that you can only guess at, while making it secure, and preserving the look of the original material, is about as complicated as it sounds. The scaffolding will reappear in the next week or so, and more concrete repair will get underway. But however long the repairs take, one thing is certain – we all know a lot more about concrete than we did two years ago.

There is always an extra element to the arrival of spring in Chichester, bringing with it the excitement of a new Festival. And this season, gilding the lily in the most tasteful way imaginable, we can also anticipate the reopening of the Festival Theatre and the thrill of visiting an upgraded space, and still one of the most exciting producing theatres in the country.

Victor Manley

That Enchanted Darkness

One of the highlights of the theatrical calendar has finally arrived. The announcement of our new Festival was made, and summer calendars are being cleared for the moment of booking for all to arrive. Of course this year there are extra deadlines and hurdles to navigate as Osborne work at an astonishing rate to get the Festival Theatre building ready for its grand opening.

Despite the recent rain the site has been crawling with workmen; there is activity inside and out, on the roof and on the road, in the auditorium and the dressing rooms, working on electrics and plaster and carpeting. It is a controlled sprint for the finish-line, when the many hours spent sorting through a thousand samples and swatches pays off, and the finished product begins to take shape. Chichester District Council arrived on Wednesday afternoon and were duly impressed – after many months of healthy support for the project, the collected local government seemed rightly proud of what had been achieved.

The hard-landscaping, which still precludes anything other than pedestrian access to the sight, is receiving its base layer while the main pathway is being mapped out across the site. When the final paving is laid there will be no doubt about the proximity of opening night – to avoid damage they will be the last thing to be installed.

Inside the structure, both refurb and new build, the end is in-sight; on a timetable of the project this month would be labelled ‘finishes’. The auditorium has its carpet and the lovingly refurbished seating is arriving to be installed this week. Doors are being hung. Plasterers are at work. At the rear of the structure on the first floor, where dressing rooms enjoy a view across the park, the ‘signature colours’ are going in:  these bright flashes of colour will add a playful element to the back view of the bold, yet occasionally austere, Festival Theatre. From the ground, through the windows, one can almost see the silhouettes of actors peering out on a sunny afternoon, killing time between a matinee and evening performance, watching the archers flex their bows across the park.

In 1961, Chichester Festival Theatre received a rather wonderful gift from the Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario – a truck-load of maple wood to be used as a fittingly grand stage. Sometime later this beautiful wood was covered and then removed and subsequently stored away for this moment of renovation and reappearance. This wood will be refurbished by Osborne on site, individual planks will be sanded (so helpfully they’re all the same thickness), sealed and then laid in the green room awaiting the step of a relaxing actor or shuffling technician. A new stage, demountable, flexible, has now been installed in the auditorium – a significant step in the plans to get actors back into the auditorium in just a matter of months.

50 years ago, in a theatre only 18 months old, Laurence Olivier programmed a season including a world-premiere of The Royal Hunt of the Sun and his own extraordinary Othello. It is thrilling to think of Amadeus opening in the beautifully refurbished space with the theatrical world watching and audiences making their first foray up the steps and into that enchanted darkness.


It is perhaps the architect’s greatest gift to be able to visualise the physical representations of marks originally made on pieces of paper. While many of us strain to imagine extensions and finishes and materials, it is almost without exception that once in a new building, no one really had an idea how big it would be, how open, how the pieces would fit together. And so, now in the Festival Theatre, with members of the public having the first tours of 2014, it really is remarkable how big it is, how open, how one corridor leads to one important room, and then another, ordered intuitively, as one would hope it would be, though could not necessarily imagine.

Having been a building site for 15 months, the Festival Theatre has reached a point where there is an expectation of it returning to its original purpose. By mid-summer an audience will walk across the freshly landscaped piazza, enter through the new (double glazed) doors, and find their seats. The old Festival Theatre was lopsided – men’s toilets one side, Box Office at one end, disabled lift tucked away around a corner – which made the foyer jam up with bottlenecks. Now the experience on each side of the Theatre will be the same – a new café/bar at each end, male, female and disabled toilets and new disabled lifts round each side, Box Office and main bar in the centre. More space, more seating, less hassle and queues. Edging around the setting screed (a levelled layer of material (e.g. cement) applied to a floor or other surface), the foyer really does have an open aspect, where before the work were fire doors, fitted benches and stalls on wheels, now everything will be in its perfectly designed place.

The auditorium will appear at first glance as it did before. However, the seating is being refurbished and reconfigured. Insider’s tip: the best seats in the house may well be the new central section in the rear stalls – elevated higher than before, and looking directly at the stage down the central aisle. Grab rails run up these new rear sections, which with improved sight lines make for easier access, and steps that much easier to negotiate when the house lights dim.

The auditorium January 2014

Creatively the watchword is flexibility. Access to the new technical rig in the ceiling has been vastly improved, and will no longer need a harness and a fearless heart. Now technicians will walk up a flight of stairs from the right balcony which will then be lifted up out of sight into the roof, making lighting changes and alterations that much easier. The new orchestra shelf above the stage is two-thirds demountable which will allow scenery, for the first time, to be the entire height of the auditorium (think Neville’s Island-style trees). Similarly the stage is entirely flexible, scenery can come in and out, sections can rise and fall and the whole thing could be removed entirely for whatever an enterprising director could wish – to be filled with sharks if they so wish for example! Or more realistically, an orchestra. The new enormous scene dock is big enough to store one production, while allowing a second to stand on stage, with enough room to allow a quick turnaround. While a third production could even be stored in the new basement. Flexibility and opportunity.

Quick house notices. The landscaping at the front of the Theatre means that there is no access for the time being by car. The hoardings have been removed to enable the ground to be levelled, before services are installed.

From Chichester, eyes are fixed on theatre’s around the world: King Lear is currently running in New York, to much trumpeting. The Pajama Game is booking in the West End, while David Suchet in The Last Confession is beginning its world tour – Australia is the first place to welcome this wonderful production.

In March eyes will turn inward again, as the CFT cycle will start all over again. The pouring over the brochure, the booking, the waiting, the show, the ice creams, finding change for programmes, conflicting reviews on the drive home, the transfers, the personal discoveries and sure-fire hits. But this year is something even more remarkable than usual, even more so than last year when the circus came to town – the Festival Theatre feels like a new building, but has lost none of the charm of the old. What some of the best creative minds in the country can come up with when given this extraordinary new space, is really something to get excited about.

Victor Manley,
Campaign Co-ordinator

Little victories are taking place

After walking side-by-side for so long, with goals so similar, and motion so in tandem, it is odd to see Chichester Festival Theatre and Osborne alter paths for a short while. But Christmas will be the catalyst for change, for a little while at least. And as such Osborne will be closing the site on Christmas Eve for a week and a half, while Dale Rooks, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre and the rest of the staff who make the Minerva tick, remain at their posts, entertaining us with The Witches.

However the stoppage is coming, perhaps contrary to preconception, at a perfect time. The structure has only just become water tight, and the underfloor heating is now operational. So a week and a half to let the structure, well, set, or more accurately dry out, couldn’t have come at a better moment.

To anyone wandering by, however casually, it’s clear that the glazing and cladding have gone on. The Cor-ten, which has long been a subject for speculation, is now attached, and will begin its long period of oxidisation.Cor-ten

All across the site there are little victories taking place. The café extensions are glazed; the new holes for the Ground Source Heat Pumps have been bored; engines are being revved to begin the first of the landscaping (post-The Witches in January of course). And thankfully for the writing of this blog, Osborne have achieved one of those facts beloved of press releases, sound bites and casual Christmas conversations everywhere: they have lain 90 miles of wiring in the auditorium.

Travelling for the length of those wires would get you to Bridport, Folkestone, even romantic Stevenage, or, if you were travelling straight upwards, well above the Karman Line and into outer space. At the moment those wires lead nowhere, but a nowhere of possibility – the control room, just weeks before fit out, when the connections will be linked and power runs through the lights and the speakers, and the Theatre gets its brain back.

It is increasingly difficult to avoid sentimentality at the moment. Just a year ago the Festival Theatre was a lonely sight, sat on a patch of muddy ground, awaiting Osborne to start digging the basement which would become its first hurdle, filling with water every night. But twelve months later and there is an alternative promise about the coming spring, and it’s made of concrete, glass and steel, and it means that in summer we can look forward to theatre in the main house again.

Water tight by Christmas?


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It may not be the most dramatic rallying cry ever issued by Western society, but for Chichester Festival Theatre it has great significance – The extension shall be water-tight by Christmas! Or perhaps Underfloor heating will be installed by Christmas! is more affecting. Although it must be noted that these statements are currently classed as ‘aims’, it is heartening that we are on track to achieve them as each marks a significant milestone on the path to Festival 2014. 

ExtensionIf you have circumnavigated the Theatre recently you will have seen the temporary glazing over what will be become the dressing rooms, allowing internal work to continue despite the gathering winter winds and squalls. This temporary glazing will soon be replaced by a beautiful permanent version, which will allow the much spoken of Corten steel to be installed, and suddenly the extension will begin to resemble the plans, visualisations and architects’ vision. 

The ground source heat pumps (that I realise have had a part in these blogs for many months), continue to be adapted and perfected. A drilling rig has arrived and fourteen new bore holes are to be dug at a depth of 150 metres each. This is part of a new closed loop system (in which Chichester Festival Theatre adds the water and relies on the ambient ground temperature to heat or cool it), to work in conjunction with the open loop system. While within the hoardings the steel work for the café / bar areas that extend from either side of the foyer has been completed, giving a fantastic idea of our new spaces. 

Despite being only a small part of the great extent of the work to the Festival Theatre, and perhaps because it will be so acutely visible, the Cor-ten has been getting a great deal of attention. This steel is not treated or coloured, instead it is left open to the elements and oxidises for several years after installation. Memorable British projects to use the material include the Angel of the North and the Royal Court Theatre. 

The greatest challenge facing the ever industrious and flexible minds at Osborne is perhaps to do with the sheer number of sub-contractors arriving on site. Specialists in every field that makes a Theatre ‘work’, undertake their own vital jobs at times that will not hinder others working on site around them. It is a logistical balancing act, but one that is being achieved with much good grace and patience. 

Most people will have had the ‘what’s happening in the New Year?’ conversation by now. At Chichester Festival Theatre the conversation is symbolic – the project is too vast and various to list all the opportunities for change in a casual conversation. Instead, a cover-all expression has been invented – ‘After Christmas the project moves from a construction to a fit-out project’. In other words the details get finer, the scope smaller, the specifics more specific. And most importantly, we take a substantial step towards reopening. 

In saying all of that, it is perhaps worth mentioning that throughout December the site outside the hoardings will appear to regress (although this is of course not the case). Anybody coming to see The Witches should be aware that there will be no vehicular access to the site, and all visitors should park in Northgate car park before walking to the Minerva. This is because the paved external landscaping will begin in December. Before that of course the critically acclaimed King Lear continues and finishes in the Minerva, before floating across the Atlantic to play at BAM in New York. 

There are a few corners to turn, and many bridges to cross, but with hand firmly grasping some two-by-four, it is now fair to say that there is a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. So much that felt beyond the grasp of imagination twelve months ago has been achieved, so many obstacles avoided or simply knocked flat. In short, we are a single Winter away from the reopening of the Festival Theatre, and perhaps that thought will help make the long nights, if not pass any quicker, at least feel less torturous.

Victor Manley
RENEW Coordinator

A Year of Transition



Of all the things to happen at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2013, the Theatre in the Park will probably remain in collective memory more than any other. And now it has been deconstructed and packaged up; by the end of October it will be gone. The tributary of decking was the first obvious casualty, half of which was taken away by industrious Chichester Canal Trust volunteers. Most of the rest of the work was invisible to outside observers – the main structure was hollowed out, piece by piece, screw by screw, until suddenly the outer lining was folded up, and then the great white bones were lowered back to ground level and dismantled. In November a patch of dead grass will be our only reminder of what took place for ten weeks during the summer of 2013, until the council get to work on it and then that will be gone too, made good for next spring.

Theatre in the Park 15 July 2013. Photo by Freya Scott

Conversely the Festival Theatre has been undergoing a long period of resurrection since February / March this year – the way to bring it back to life has been to add things- infrastructure, technical services, plant. The speed of the regeneration will go into fast forward this week as the cladding begins to be installed onto the extension. The Corten steel (a type of weathering steel which uses a naturally forming layer of rust as a stable outer surface) will alter in colour over the next couple of years from orange to dark brown.

The extension is being made water-tight (not a moment too soon) so that more delicate work can take place. Internal walls have begun appearing, and corridors and stairwells give an idea of internal geography. The ‘birdcage’ of scaffolding, that until recently offered access to the ceiling of the auditorium has been taken down and now the auditorium has an atmosphere of possibility – the seating structure is waiting for its seats, the scene-dock is waiting for a set, the rig is waiting for lights. It has been a long time for a theatre to be without a show – Michael Pennington said ‘goodbye’ to the Theatre while in Antony and Cleopatra over  a year ago. We will all have to be patient a little longer, and all being well we’ll be back home for Festival 2014.

In the ever-ready Minerva Theatre the summer season has continued to bear fruit. Julian Mitchell’s Another Country gathered four star reviews with panache. But that doesn’t end our 2013. To follow will be King Lear and The Witches, while the spectacular Arturo Ui runs in the West End.

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There may never be another opportunity for the Theatre like the one offered during our transition year in 2013, and I can’t imagine a better exploitation of chance than the Theatre in the Park. I have no faith or interest in meteorology – but even I know that the best summer in seven years existed for the sole benefit of Chichester Festival Theatre.

Victor Manley
RENEW Coordinator

Into Autumn

Since the 15 July the cast of Barnum have juggled, sprung, dangled and jumped (not to mention a bit of singing and dancing) for the entertainment of almost 1,400 people a night. An extraordinary success, it will be sorely missed. However to considerably soften the blow comes Neville’s Island (now previewing), Tim Firth’s (of Calendar Girls’ fame) uproarious comedy. The technical team worked day and night to fit the new set- and it’s going to be a cracker with the four-strong cast and director Angus Jackson

Down the hill at the Festival Theatre eyes (and ears) are turned towards the removal and/or repair of the old concrete. Plans have had a little rejigging but the team are confident they have found the solution. The front beam, where concrete has been removed to expose the steel framework underneath, will be the only section to be renovated to such an extent, the rest of the concrete will be repaired in sections where required.

It won’t be long before we see our new Cor-ten cladding going on to sections of the Festival Theatre and the extension. Meanwhile the team are halfway through the groundwork for the new glazed café/bar triangles (ahead of schedule). The bore-holes for the Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP’s) are still under observation, receiving minute-to-minute care and attention. Work in the auditorium, and within the new extension continues; soon the new structure will be fitted with its roof and internal work to services can begin.

Arturo Ui is simultaneously running in the Minerva Theatre and rehearsing for a change of venue- from CFT’s thrust stage to The Duchess’s proscenium arch, which is just as complicated as it sounds. While Another Country, our next Minerva show, has just opened in Bath where it runs prior to its arrival in Chichester.

In just over a month we will say goodbye to our extraordinary Theatre in the Park and indeed many people will be wondering why we have to lose it at all. But here in the Steven Pimlott building, staff want to get back ‘home’, a home that has had a very serious upgrade. In fact we’re confident that once our audience experience our revamped Festival Theatre (refurbished seats, air-conditioning, new lifts, new bar areas, more and better WC’s, improved outdoor areas etc.), all thoughts of resurrecting the pearly white Theatre in the Park will evaporate like the last of the summer’s Pimms.

Victor Manley
Campaign Coordinator