Stories from the Festival Theatre

He may have been just the dishwasher, but Julian Sluggett found himself involved in discussions at the very highest level in the earliest days of Chichester Festival Theatre.

It’s a story Westbourne-based Julian will tell for the new Festival of Chichester.

Julian will be offering his one-man show Notes From a Dishwasher on June 24 and July 8 at Zizzi’s Restaurant, Chichester, at 7 for 7.30pm.

Tickets are £20 (advanced booking only) to include a two-course meal (starter and choice of main) and a glass of wine.

The heart of the evening will be Julian’s affectionate portrait of the early years of the Chichester Festival Theatre under the direction of Sir Laurence Oliver.

“I was the dishwaster – just a chance to be part of this fantastic operation,” Julian recalls.

“I had been up at the Lodge Hill summer school a couple of years before doing an intensive drama week when (CFT founder) Leslie Evershed-Martin came to talk about the theatre plans and show us the model of the new theatre.

“We were just totally excited about this fantastic thing that was landing in Chichester, and for me, not only was it landing in Chichester, it was landing only half a mile from where I lived.”

When the new theatre opened, Julian, at the age of 16, was taken on to do the dishes in the restaurant: “There were no mechanical dishwashers then. It was all done by hand, and it was an endless procession of plates, as you can imagine.

“It was only me doing it, and there were 120 covers!

“I used to get up there in the evenings at about 6pm and I didn’t finish until midnight, but there was so much washing-up to be done that I used to have to go back in the morning for three or four hours to finish off, and that’s how the whole thing developed.”

On one particular day, he was told to take a carafe of wine and glasses to a group sitting in the restaurant. Among them were general manager Pieter Rodgers and Laurence Olivier.

“Olivier said to me ‘Pour the wine’ and I did, and then he said ‘Pour one for yourself’.

He said ‘Sit down’ and then he pushed a telegram across the table at me. It was from Lord Chandos offering him the first directorship of the National Theatre starting that October.

“Olivier said ‘What do you think?’ I asked ‘Will you accept?’ He said ‘Of course, I will accept?’

“And I said ‘What about the people of Chichester?’, and Olivier then went into one of his famous tirades.”

The background was that the day before Olivier and Evershed-Martin had had a furious row. Evershed-Martin had overheard Olivier planning to bring back the following year his production of Uncle Vanya; Evershed-Martin waded in, telling Olivier that he was contracted to do three new plays; Olivier told him - in no uncertain terms - to go away.

“So when I said to him ‘What about the people of Chichester’, Olivier said the people of Chichester didn’t give a **** about the theatre or about him either; that all they wanted was a swimming pool or a wrestling ring!

“But I said ‘No, sir, I think you are wrong; the people of Chichester love you here; they have taken you to their hearts; it would be a tragedy if you left.”

In the event, it was Julian who suggested the compromise...

Tickets: www.festivalofchichester.co.uk or 01243 813595.