While there was an open hole at the back of the Theatre, it became commonplace for workmen to arrive on-site and find three metres of water in it. Problems had been expected of this nature, but not of this scale. However, a water pump was put to work and all was back in motion. Now the hole has become a basement. Mud walls have become concrete slabs. The Festival Theatre extension has arrived at ground level – there are such things as walls and ceilings standing where only water-boatmen skimmed so recently. The footprint of the extension is visible – it is all up from here.
The cold has been unpleasant for those of us in offices, let alone all those out on the site every day. Although apparently the concrete is fairly happy about it – concrete arrives pre-warmed to deal with the cold and sets well. Heavy rain and strong winds are far trickier for it, but have as yet been fairly unusual.
As the extension becomes more recognisable, the interior of the Festival Theatre is further stripped away. The auditorium is going back to bones to allow core alterations to take place. Currently holes are being drilled beneath where the refurbished seats will sit, for the new air conditioning system. In the foyer the windows have been knocked out to be replaced with identical, but energy efficient, versions. And from the subterranean to the stellar, the ‘Chichester Festival Theatre’ lettering and attached cladding has been removed. Beneath the ‘new’ 1994 cladding is the original: miscoloured, flaking – it suggests an answer to anyone who might question the RENEW project. Many 1962 features have never been treated, covered or replaced – the original cladding is a reminder of what 50 years of wear and tear looks like, and what each passing month might mean without vital refurbishment.
As part of the plans to make the Theatre ‘green’, boreholes are being dug to the north and south of the Theatre for a system of geothermal heat-pumps. These are underground heating systems utilising the stable temperatures of the earth at around 20 feet below ground level.
RENEW still has a way to go – £1 million. A vital target, and difficult in such fiscally uncertain times, and we will be running all sorts of events over the summer to ask our audience to help us reach our goal. Soon on 1 April at 11am, we’ll be inviting our audience to help us lay a Mile of £1 coins around the Theatre. On 6 April we will be holding a Theatre Quiz in the Minerva Lounge (what was the Brasserie Upstairs), with questions on Chichester Festival Theatre and Theatreland in general. Tickets are available here.
Unrelated to RENEW, but good news nonetheless, there are now new seats in the Minerva Theatre. More comfortable, and with an increased capacity (now at 309). They will be ready for use when The Pajama Game roars into town, with the first preview on 22 April.