Anthony Andrews returns to roots

Anthony Andrews in A Marvellous Year For Plums.  PICTURE: Manuel Harlan
Anthony Andrews in A Marvellous Year For Plums. PICTURE: Manuel Harlan

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To celebrate Chichester Festival Theatre’s 50th anniversary, this season features plays and faces from its past.

One such face is actor Anthony Andrews, who is starring in the world premiere of Hugh Whitemore’s play A Marvellous Year for Plums from May 11-June 2.

Anthony worked as part of the stage crew in the 1960s, and got his first part at the theatre after a last-minute change in the run meant that everyone was asked to volunteer.

He says: ‘It was just after Olivier left and John Clements had just taken over. I was very young and we were all on the stage crew.

‘They had to switch productions at the last minute and everybody threw their hat in the ring, so to speak.

‘We were asked to volunteer and my hand went in the air. I got one opportunity to have my first part and I took it.’

But Anthony’s involvement with the theatre doesn’t stop there, as his mother and sister also played a part in its history.

He adds: ‘It’s particularly significant for me. My mother lived quite locally and we moved down here. My sister managed the box office and became the front of house manager.

‘There’s an emotional jolt to coming back but I’m delighted to be part of it, especially with the 50th celebrations. There are refurbishments at the theatre which have long been needed.’

The new play is set in 1956 and is based on the Suez Crisis. Anthony plays Prime Minister Anthony Eden as he is faced with the possibility of leading Britain into war.

Anthony says: ‘He was an extraordinary and very well-known politician before the period we deal with in the play. He had a very famous profile. It became quite obvious that he should be the next Prime Minister when Churchill finally decided to retire.

‘What he did the moment he got into office was call an election. His success was enormous. It was something like 17 up to 50 seats, a massive success.’

He adds: ‘He had an extraordinary way with people. People who were not of his own class, as it were, who didn’t necessarily vote Conservative, adored him.’

But at the time of the crisis, Eden was already very ill.

Anthony says of the play: ‘It’s from one of our most illustrious playwrights, Hugh Whitemore. He’s had dramas in theatre and films too. It’s a great privilege to be able to do this play and also nice that he’s part of the rehearsal process.

‘It’s really very interesting and complex. It’s a revealing script, full of surprises.’

Anthony is best known for his role as Lord Sebastian Flyte in ITV’s Brideshead Revisited, for which he received Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards, and a Emmy Award nomination. He’s also appeared on screen in The King’s Speech, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Danger UXB, and on stage in The Letter, My Fair Lady and Bully Boy, a new play by Sandi Toksvig.

Also starring in the production are Nicholas Le Prevost, Imogen Stubbs, Abigail Cruttenden and David Yelland.

n Tickets cost £14 to £36 from Chichester Festival Theatre on (01243) 781312 or go to cft.org.uk.