Star Hugh swaps Downton Abbey for Chichester

Hugh Bonneville
Hugh Bonneville

REVIEW: Beauty and The Beast at Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham

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He’s more used to rubbing shoulders with Maggie Smith on the Downton Abbey set.

But for the first time in 20 years, Hugh Bonneville will return to the Chichester Festival Theatre stage as one of the stars of the 2016 summer season, which was announced today.

Best known for playing Robert Crawley in Downton from 2010-2015, Bonneville will star in the season opener in the main house, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (April 22-May 21).

The actor, whose film credits include The Monuments Men opposite George Clooney and Paddington opposite a computer-generated bear, said: ‘I’m very excited to be returning to my local theatre.

‘I last performed at Chichester in 1996 in Ronald Harwood’s The Handyman, which starred the great Frank Finlay, who sadly died only a few weeks ago.

‘Jonathan Church and I have been talking for ages about finding a project, so I was delighted when he suggested I have a look at Ibsen’s Enemy of The People, a play I had never read. I couldn’t put it down.

‘It’s the gripping story of a whistleblower whose confidence that he is doing the right thing comes at a price.

‘In Christopher Hampton’s brilliant translation it feels utterly contemporary in its treatment of what happens when public opinion turns on one of its own.’

This will be the 11th and final summer in charge for artistic and executive directors Jonathan Church and Alan Finch.

Jonathan says: ‘There is a fair amount of new work here that have been projects in development, and because it was the last season we have had to hot-house some of them. I think this is the most new work we have had in a season.’

The season continues with Ross by Terence Rattigan (June 3-25), starring Joseph Fiennes and directed by former RSC boss and Chichester schoolboy Adrian Noble.

The big summer musical will be a heavily-reworked Half A Sixpence, based on the novel Kipps by HG Wells but revisited by Downton creator Julian Fellowes with new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

Completing the main-house season is a Royal Shakespeare Company double bill: Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing or Love’s Labour’s Won, (September 24-October 29) directed by Christopher Luscombe).

Priority booking for Friends of Chichester Festival Theatre opens online on February 22.

Public booking opens online on March 2 with phone and physical bookings open on March 7. Call 01243 781312 or visit cft.org.uk.