On 27 October Private Lives drew to a close on an emotional night for the Theatre, and many of us felt a little pang of fearful disbelief at the thought of a cold winter with no Chichester Festival Youth Theatre or incoming touring productions to prop us up. But that is where the Theatre and its vagrant staff find themselves. Vagrant in a very comfortable sense, decamped in the Steven Pimlott building.
So the hoardings encircle the building and the demolition continues unabated. The most extraordinary aspect of it is the rapid progress. It took a little over two days for the Administration Block to be cleared away, folding beneath the machines like wet cardboard; the Green Room was gone in another two (frost on the roof-tops); most recently, and perhaps most dramatically, the Box Office has been scoured away. The Box Office doors have been heaved from the hinges and the great brown concrete column (for so long the obstruction in front of the Box Office) is now dripping with rain water. Slowly but surely the original hexagon is beginning to reappear- the striking original design re-emerging from half a century of architectural detritus. Next begins the careful removal of the back-of-house areas, which will take close to a week. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
There is however, no need to take my word for any of this: there is a camera sitting atop the Minerva building transmitting a live stream (available 8am – 4.30pm, Mon – Fri) of the demolition on our website. But be warned, if you start watching the hours will slide by- it is truly compelling stuff. Our online gallery is also up and running, with regular photographic updates from within the J.C.B.’s lair, so to speak.
While there is a great hive of activity on one side of the site, artistically the Festival and Minerva Theatres enter hibernation. But despite an apparent somnambulance, behind the scenes the cogs are whirring; there are whispered conversations in dark corners about contracts, rumours from the internet press about programming. In short, Festival 2013 is drawing closer, and from within the organisation the apparent respite seems purely spectral. Especially to all of those working under the joint banner of CFYT and Learning and Participation, who’s growing programme seems to become busier with every passing day.
Up the A3 in London, Goodnight Mister Tom, a Chichester Festival Theatre co-production from Winter 2010, springs into life at the Phoenix Theatre, while Kiss Me, Kate from Festival 2012 opens at the Old Vic. Singin’ in the Rain and Yes, Prime Minister roll on like juggernauts. ‘CFT’ is dark in Chichester, but we are taking over the capital.
In the dressing rooms of the Minerva, actors have been replaced with towering piles of books. The RENEW book sale is running on 29 and 30 November, 10am – 4pm, at the Assembly Rooms on North Street, Chichester. A few weeks ago we requested books from our Friends and visitors, and now we have thousands. As ever our audience has come through and we will be able to fill the upstairs Assembly Room with fiction (from Jean-Paul Sartre to Helen Fielding) and non-fiction (from Military Tactics to ‘Why cats paint?’) of any and every variety. Unfortunately we are now unable to accept any more book donations as we simply do not have the space. However, with the addition of clothing and accessories to the book sale, we are now looking for handbags, scarves and jewellery to sell on the ‘New to You’ stall. Any donations can be left at the Minerva reception.
Despite a theatrical winter suspension, the RENEW project hurries along. There are plans for events being made for the next 12 months, and great generosity is still being shown. Our telephone campaign was a huge success, and we greatly appreciate every donation or every conversation with one of our audience. Balcony seats continue to be sponsored and envelopes continue to hold cheques. The generosity of our Friends and visitors has been quite overwhelming, and though the final target is still a good way off, we are ticking off each milestone.