He was just a humble dishwasher, but it was a great perspective from which to view those very earliest days at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Julian Sluggett revives his one-man show Notes From A Dishwasher for two dates at the new Wemsfest arts festival.
For Julian, washing those dishes was the start of a career in the theatre which is flourishing still half a century later.
Julian first created the show for the 30th anniversary of the West End Centre in Aldershot, where he was the founding artistic director. He is delighted to “dust it off” again for the inaugural Westbourne/Emsworth festival, particularly in the year which also sees the CFT’s 50th anniversary.
“In that very first season, I was indeed a dishwasher. I was working down at Pontins in Bracklesham Bay at the time, and I was really fascinated by this new theatre being built in Chichester. A friend of mine said ‘I am working up there at the moment as a dishwasher. Would you be interested?’
“I had watched it being built; I watched the topping out ceremony; I went up the ladders and all the way round the theatre before the roof was put on. They had invited people to come and have a look.”
So of course Julian was interested - and he duly found himself washing dishes: “In the very first season there was so much dishwashing that I used to go in in the morning to finish up. The telephone was forever ringing, and I am someone who simply can’t pass a ringing phone without answering it. I used to answer ‘Chichester Festival Theatre restaurant’ and give them the spiel about what we were serving, which was smorgasbord, so I would be answering the question ‘What is smorgasbord!’”
Inevitably, Julian was exposed to the stars. He remembers one occasion on which founding artistic director Laurence Olivier said to him “pour the wine” and added “sit down and pour yourself one.” Olivier passed across to him the famous telegram which offered Olivier the first directorship of the new National Theatre. He asked Julian what he thought.
“I said to him that it was a great opportunity. I said to him ‘But what will happen about Chichester?’”
Olivier’s answer was a massive rant. Little did Julian know that Olivier had had a huge argument with CFT founder Leslie Evershed-Martin the night before...
Find out more at Julian’s shows: Woodmancote: The Woodmancote, Monday, September 17, 7pm and Emwsorth: The Crown Hotel, Monday, September 24, 8pm. Tickets on www.wemsfest.com.