It may not be the most dramatic rallying cry ever issued by Western society, but for Chichester Festival Theatre it has great significance – The extension shall be water-tight by Christmas! Or perhaps Underfloor heating will be installed by Christmas! is more affecting. Although it must be noted that these statements are currently classed as ‘aims’, it is heartening that we are on track to achieve them as each marks a significant milestone on the path to Festival 2014.
If you have circumnavigated the Theatre recently you will have seen the temporary glazing over what will be become the dressing rooms, allowing internal work to continue despite the gathering winter winds and squalls. This temporary glazing will soon be replaced by a beautiful permanent version, which will allow the much spoken of Corten steel to be installed, and suddenly the extension will begin to resemble the plans, visualisations and architects’ vision.
The ground source heat pumps (that I realise have had a part in these blogs for many months), continue to be adapted and perfected. A drilling rig has arrived and fourteen new bore holes are to be dug at a depth of 150 metres each. This is part of a new closed loop system (in which Chichester Festival Theatre adds the water and relies on the ambient ground temperature to heat or cool it), to work in conjunction with the open loop system. While within the hoardings the steel work for the café / bar areas that extend from either side of the foyer has been completed, giving a fantastic idea of our new spaces.
Despite being only a small part of the great extent of the work to the Festival Theatre, and perhaps because it will be so acutely visible, the Cor-ten has been getting a great deal of attention. This steel is not treated or coloured, instead it is left open to the elements and oxidises for several years after installation. Memorable British projects to use the material include the Angel of the North and the Royal Court Theatre.
The greatest challenge facing the ever industrious and flexible minds at Osborne is perhaps to do with the sheer number of sub-contractors arriving on site. Specialists in every field that makes a Theatre ‘work’, undertake their own vital jobs at times that will not hinder others working on site around them. It is a logistical balancing act, but one that is being achieved with much good grace and patience.
Most people will have had the ‘what’s happening in the New Year?’ conversation by now. At Chichester Festival Theatre the conversation is symbolic – the project is too vast and various to list all the opportunities for change in a casual conversation. Instead, a cover-all expression has been invented – ‘After Christmas the project moves from a construction to a fit-out project’. In other words the details get finer, the scope smaller, the specifics more specific. And most importantly, we take a substantial step towards reopening.
In saying all of that, it is perhaps worth mentioning that throughout December the site outside the hoardings will appear to regress (although this is of course not the case). Anybody coming to see The Witches should be aware that there will be no vehicular access to the site, and all visitors should park in Northgate car park before walking to the Minerva. This is because the paved external landscaping will begin in December. Before that of course the critically acclaimed King Lear continues and finishes in the Minerva, before floating across the Atlantic to play at BAM in New York.
There are a few corners to turn, and many bridges to cross, but with hand firmly grasping some two-by-four, it is now fair to say that there is a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. So much that felt beyond the grasp of imagination twelve months ago has been achieved, so many obstacles avoided or simply knocked flat. In short, we are a single Winter away from the reopening of the Festival Theatre, and perhaps that thought will help make the long nights, if not pass any quicker, at least feel less torturous.