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.
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.
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.