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.
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.