It’s been a hectic month at Chichester Festival Theatre, there has been little chance for anyone to sit still for five minutes, and it’s only since the rain that some of the public have come in from the park for the first time in weeks (all looking slightly dazed and sun burnt).
The extraordinary Theatre in the Park stands in Oaklands Park and it is everything we were promised it would be. During the day it has been the perfect outdoor festival hub; during the evening the lights have led us up the park like will-o-the-wisps, towards a blue glow illuminating the white canvas. The experience of the place – the ‘atmos’ as one cameraman was heard to say – is part of the reason to visit. 1,400 people outside in the warm evening air, picnic benches and miles of decking (about eight miles apparently) creates a true summer festival feeling. What a fortnight it has been to be in Chichester. It’s a bit like a dream, one that will end all too soon in October. My advice- come now, and again as often as you can – we probably won’t see anything like this again.
As the Theatre in the Park enchants us, the Festival Theatre has reached something of a turning point. There is now sufficient space, security and progress for a few lucky individuals to be able to get on site and be shown around. The mysterious site, demurely sheltering behind those hoardings, has been occasionally opened up revealing the most amazing progress! Visitors have said the sense of scale is now really evident – the amount of work that has taken place and the extent of the improvements. This refurbishment and redevelopment will improve the Theatre no matter which side of the stage you are on, whether actor, director, crew, set designer, loyal Friend or casual visitor. The experience of coming to Chichester Festival Theatre will have improved a staggering amount. There are too many individual developments to make a list of them all, so I would encourage everyone to come on an upcoming tour (17 and 31 August – book through the Box Office online or call 01243 781312) to see for yourself.
The towering ladder and stair scaffold system on the car park side of the Festival Theatre will soon be gone, and work on both new triangular foyer extensions will gather pace. The view of the Festival Theatre will soon become more familiar.
In the Minerva our insightful new play If Only closed and will be replaced by last year’s fantastic The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (which I would, and do, recommend to everyone). More events are coming up to raise money for RENEW – the Youth Theatre’s brilliant blast through Chichester Festival Theatre’s musical history on 25 August (Lend Us Your Ears) and the resurrection of our much-missed Smörgåsbord and Strawberries around the final Barnum performances on 31 August.
If last summer was the frantic celebration of this artistic institution’s half-century – the midnight-oil-burning barn dance, this summer is the garden party for 1,400 people. It’s been no less an adventure (and no less work), but a wonderful excursion up into the wilds of Oaklands Park.