Zoë Wanamaker, Rupert Everett, David Haig and Patricia Routledge are among the stars in a sparkling summer season announced today at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Also heading for the CFT will be Penelope Wilton, Imelda Staunton, Dervla Kirwan and Morse sidekick ‘Lewis’ Kevin Whately for a landmark summer in the CFT’s 52-year-history.
The season will see the main-house reopen for the first time in more than 18 months after a massive £22m rebuild and refurbish. And artistic director Jonathan Church is delighted to unveil a season to befit the occasion, packed with starry names, world premieres and classics including An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde and Amadeus by Peter Shaffer.
Starting later than usual, the main house season will run right through until the first week of January with five major productions, finishing with the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre returning to the Christmas slot with The Hundred And One Dalmatians in a new adaptation by Bryony Lavery.
Amadeus starring Rupert Everett will run from July 12-August 2. It will be followed by Guys And Dolls (August 11-September 21), a musical fable of Broadway based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon. The cast will feature Peter Polycarpou and Sophie Thompson.
The autumn main-house production will be Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy – A Musical Fable, (October 6-November 8), with a cast to include Imelda Staunton, Lara Pulver and Kevin Whately. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde (November 21-December 13), starring Chichester-based Patricia Routledge, then follows.
The Minerva season will start in April with Hugh Whitemore’s depiction of the poet Stevie Smith, starring Zoë Wanamaker. It will conclude at the end of the first week of December with Terrence McNally’s Frankie & Johnny In The Clair De Lune starring Dervla Kirwan in the play which sparked the movie starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
For Jonathan Church, now Chichester Festival Theatre’s longest-serving artistic director, the 2014 summer season is a crowning moment in his richly-successful time at the venue.
First, he doubled the audiences; then he pretty much rebuilt the theatre.
Renew became the watchword as the CFT main house, seriously past its sell-by date, celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago.And now that renew is very nearly complete.
Jonathan resolved to mark the theatre’s first 50 years by ensuring it survived the next 50 years. 2012 saw the launch of a multi-million pound redevelopment programme which stripped the theatre’s concrete pavilion back to its skeleton, completely refurbished it and added a brand-new building at the back housing dressing rooms and office accommodation.
As Jonathan says, audiences will find everything smarter but reassuringly familiar; for the actors behind the scenes, everything will be completely new. It’s the kind of project – and indeed the kind of season – which simply would not have been possible without the contacts and support the CFT has built up over the years.
“We have got a really great pool of people that we have worked with and a lot of people who have an incredible affection for this building. Without that continuity we would not have been able to deliver this. If you were only here for four years, there is no way you could have done it. The theatre has been supported in a way it has never been supported before.”
The pressure will now be to maintain funding at a time when funders everywhere are feeling the pinch – and also to fill the extra seats the rebuild has brought: “The return has affected the programming in a number of ways. We wanted to do a couple of things that were notably special and unusual. The range of work we have chosen for the Festival Theatre will allow some great opportunities visually and also to use the new bells and whistles that we have got in the space.”
The main house season opens with Amadeus and continues with Guys And Dolls.
“They are big flamboyant, epic pieces that we have chosen, that I hope will populate the theatre with lots of people and also some stage trickery, I must admit!”
Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus comes as part of a mini-Shaffer season within the season, with Shaffer’s Black Comedy also playing in the Minerva – a recognition of a man who, when the CFT originally opened, was, as Jonathan says, the most important writer in the country. Shaffer’s dramas played a crucial role in the early success of the venue. Indeed, Jonathan is convinced that it was Olivier’s adventurousness in staging Shaffer back then which gave Chichester the kind of adventurous audience which has enabled him to base this summer’s Minerva season around new writing, with a number of world premieres.
As for Amadeus: “It is perfect for our stage. It is a massive operatic thriller, for want of a better word. It’s an extraordinary story, almost like a conspiracy theory – did Salieri kill Mozart? It’s almost melodrama, an extraordinary plot, an epic thriller with this wonderful operatic sweep.”
Playing Salieri will be Rupert Everett, who starred a few years back in Pygmalion, one of the most successful plays ever on the CFT stage. Shaffer saw Everett in The Judas Kiss and determined that Everett was the man for Amadeus.
Mozart – object of Salieri’s incredible jealousy – remains to be cast: “Salieri’s tragedy is that he lives long enough to know that his own work will not be performed and that Mozart’s work will live on. We need a great contrast to Rupert. We need someone we can believe has this incredible, amazing talent.”
As for Guys And Dolls: “We try to provide our audiences with some of the best of American musical theatre. Guys And Dolls is one of a handful of absolute classics, and we have discovered that it has not been done here before. After things like 42nd Street, Carousel and Singin’ In The Rain, it is another great Broadway classic.”
The main-house season continues with Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy – A Musical Fable, reuniting the creative team behind the CFT’s production of Sweeney Todd of a couple of years back, complete with the return of Todd’s pie-baking accomplice Imelda Staunton (below, left). Kevin Whately, best known as TV’s Lewis to John Thaw’s Morse, will join the cast.
Taking the main-house season into December will be An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, starring Patricia Routledge and directed by Rachel Kavanaugh.
“It is one of my favourite Wildes. I love Earnest for its wit, but for me, this is the most genuinely-interesting plot. Ultimately it is about a corrupt politician. Earnest is a delight, but to me, this one has got it all, a really strong story, plus four or five really glorious roles.
“Patricia is absolutely firing on all cylinders. She still has this incredible energy and connection with her audience.”