Rob Houchen's happy return to Chichester Festival Theatre

Last summer’s Concert in the Park at Chichester Festival Theatre was a golden moment for  Rob Houchen in a summer when he should have been doing South Pacific.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 6:20 am
Joanna Ampil and Rob Houchen in South Pacific - Photo by Johan Persson
Joanna Ampil and Rob Houchen in South Pacific - Photo by Johan Persson

Instead, in a bleak summer otherwise, the CFT’s concerts offered some late-summer light – and Rob was thrilled to be part of them.

“It was just great to have a real live audience on a beautiful day in a beautiful venue and sing some amazing songs with some amazing people. I was lucky. I did a couple of jobs. I worked in Cirencester for a bit when we were in the tier system and it was possible. I did a two-hander. And I was in the Les Mis concert for a bit when we started up in December. I had opportunities when a lot of people didn’t.

“It was awful for so many people, and just for everyone to be cut off so dramatically was awful and not to be able to perform at a time when other people were still able to do things just felt like salt in the wounds. But really the main point for me was just that I was safe and healthy and I am really thankful for that, and I was still able to create some music from where I live. But I think what also helped was the fact that we were all in the same position. That made it just a little bit better, the fact that it wasn’t just you. And I have been unemployed before and I suppose I just knew that I was still able to do some things. The money was really really difficult when your income just stops, and sometimes when other professions were carrying on, you thought ‘That’s not fair!’ but it is great that we are doing this now.”

Rob was due to be in South Pacific last year: “I was really sad about it, and I said to (CFT artistic director and show director) Daniel (Evans) that I really, really hoped we could do it next year, but it was such a big leap. We just didn’t know what the future was going to bring. But I know that Daniel was always planning to do the show in Chichester, that it is such a classic show and that he had such a vision for it that he was always going to try to make it work, the fact that he wanted to attack the racism in it. It is part of what makes it so relevant to today with all that is going on.

“My character (Lt Joseph Cable) is definitely racist, and Gina’s character Nellie is definitely racist, but these are characters that are going on a journey, characters who meet other people and are changed by other people and it makes them change their lives and how they live their lives.”

The point is that we are seeing a racist being reformed: “And I think we can take a lot from that. It is all about how people bring people up in a certain way and go wrong.”

On top of that, of course, it is also huge fun “especially being around all these people in the company who are just top notch and everyone is just so talented. I can’t wait to spend the summer together.”

A huge part of the pleasure is just to be working with Daniel again, Rob says… a director actors love working for.

Rob cites just a “microcosm” of what it is like. In rehearsals, after a big number, Rob retreated to a table where he couldn’t be seen. Daniel pointed out that when it came to the actual performances a glass of water would be waiting on the table for him.

“And that is just amazing that he thought of that, the thing that only an actor turned director would think of, knowing exactly what I would need.”

South Pacific is at Chichester Festival Theatre from July 5-September 4.