Why Chichester Festival Theatre won't ever give up hope

Chichester Festival Theatre lost its entire summer season; it then lost almost all of its autumn season; it has now lost its spring season before even getting the chance to announce it.

Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 8:16 am
Chichester Festival Theatre's Kathy Bourne (Executive Director) and Daniel Evans (Artistic Director) Photo Seamus Ryan

CFT artistic director Daniel Evans admits the move to tier four – and then lockdown again – has been the bitterest blow of all. But if anything, it strengthens the resolve to keep on trying.

“When you get over how frustrating it is and how bewildering it is, there is a part of you that says ‘Why don’t we just hunker down and cancel everything and just moth-ball the whole operation?’ “But that goes against every fibre of my and (executive director) Kathy Bourne’s bodies.

“We are not going to moth-ball. We are going to keep trying. We are not going to give up. We are here to serve the community and that’s what we are funded for.

“People tell us how much they miss us.

“We know from the feedback we get how much the things we have been able to do have lifted people’s spirits, and that has been so edifying for us.

“And in a way, the more this goes on, the harder people find it. It can feel relentless. It can feel like we are never going to get out of this, but when we do, I think theatre is going to be needed more than ever when this is all behind us. I just feel that the moment we can do it, we should be ready to do it.”

What the theatre can do in the meantime is explore the online world – and see which elements of the proposed spring season can switch to streaming.

The planned Valentine’s Day concert is certainly one possibility.

Valentine’s Day is also a key date for the summer season, traditionally the time the summer line-up is announced.

“At the moment we are working towards a half-announcement on Valentine’s Day when we will hope to announce half the season. Rather than the full season, we would hope to announce four or five productions, purposefully to give us some agility so that if we have to change things again, then we can so do. And then hopefully we can make the second season announcement, hopefully for a time when we might be able to have full audiences again. We are hoping to make that announcement something like June.”

In the meantime, Daniel hopes to have salvaged Benefactors from the spring season. Benefactors was meant to be starting rehearsals on Monday, January 4, prior to a CFT run from February 5-27, with Hugh Dennis, Claire Skinner, Mina Anwar and Dominic Rowan.

The hope is the play might be staged in the autumn.

“We have got a brilliant cast. We had a Zoom with Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner the other night, and we are talking to the two other cast members. They are all still wanting to do it. We are now looking at new dates, but the problem is that we have already got some things lined up for this year. We are hoping that South Pacific can come back. So we are hoping for the autumn for Benefactors. It would be wonderful if everybody involved in the production would be free to do it then.”

Michael Frayn’s classic comedy – winner of the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Play – is a funny, gripping and wryly shrewd look at the unforeseen consequences of our best intentions.