A NEW era begins for Chichester Festival Theatre tomorrow as the first paying audiences see the results of the venue’s £22m rebuild.
Two years ago the CFT celebrated its 50th anniversary by announcing plans for a massive redevelopment to ensure the theatre continues for the next 50 years.
Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (July 12-August 2), starring Rupert Everett, is now the first show back – a chance for audiences to enjoy new-found comforts and for cast and crew to sample state-of-the-art facilities and extras.
The redevelopment project stripped the celebrated 1962 concrete structure back to its skeleton and rebuilt the main auditorium.
At the back of the theatre, it has added a new extension which will ensure that the shows will be bigger and better than ever, says executive director Alan Finch.
As early as 2009, Mr Finch and artistic director Jonathan Church warned that the venue was past its sell-by date.
In their early years at the venue, they more than doubled audiences at a venue which had been on the point of bankruptcy when they arrived. But ever-increasing audiences highlighted more and more the fact that the venue itself was operating beyond its capacity.
Arts Council funding of £12m was key to unlocking the £22m they reckoned the building needed if it was to survive the next half-century. Contributions from local authorities and a fundraising campaign helped the theatre towards its target.
The new-look foyer is the first thing audiences will see.
‘It is now far airier,’ Mr Finch said.
‘There is a lot more glazing. We have opened up areas that were panelled before, and we have opened up lots of dark little corners. Physically it is much bigger too.”
Ladies loos have doubled in number; wheelchair spaces have increased substantially; and a new café has been added in a building now heated and cooled using water pumped from a neighbouring park.
New dressing rooms and a bigger behind-the-stage area are among other improvements.