The South’s premier producing theatre will fight financial cuts with an ambitious summer programme featuring four knights of the realm, three musicals and a major centenary celebration.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s 50th annual season includes big names ranging from Sir Ian McKellen to Michael Ball as artistic director Jonathan Church strives to increase ticket sales yet again.
They have nearly doubled, to more than 200,000 last summer, in his first five years.
CFT has lost more than 60 per cent of its grant from West Sussex County Council as well as the across-the-board cut of 6.9 per cent imposed on all Arts Council clients but hopes to continue punching above its weight after providing further productions for the West End last year.
The big coup is securing Ian McKellen for The Syndicate, Mike Poulton’s new adaptation of a play by Eduardo de Filippo.
The actor will take time out from filming as Gandalf in the new two-part screen adaptation of The Hobbit in New Zealand to appear in this world premiere.
Jonathan says: ‘He will play a Mafia boss who runs Naples in this glorious, darkly comic play, which has never previously been staged in Britain.
‘The cast also includes Michael Pennington who was our Master Builder last year and before that was in Taking Sides and Collaboration.
‘And the director is Sean Mathias who directed Ian in Waiting For Godot in London, with Patrick Stewart.’
The centenary celebration is of the birth of playwright Terence Rattigan, who has been helped back into fashion by CFT productions of The Winslow Boy, In Praise Of Love and Separate Tables.
Neither one-act masterpiece The Browning Version nor full-length masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea has previously been staged at the venue, but now each will be cleverly paired with new works.
Sir David Hare has written South Downs as a one-act companion piece for The Browning Version. Both are set in public schools and will be performed by one company of actors.
And another group of actors will perform both The Deep Blue Sea and a new full-length play by Nicholas Wright called Rattigan’s Nijinsky,
Rattigan himself is among the characters in this script, based on a screenplay that he wrote and then mysteriously withdrew. It is set in the worlds of the Ballets Russes.
Some of Rattigan’s lesser-known works will also be featured in other events including an entertainment directed by and featuring Penelope Keith.
Naturally, it is entitled In Praise Of Rattigan.
Jonathan says he is ‘phenomenally excited’ by the collaboration of two knights in a modern classic never previously staged at Chichester – Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, written by Sir Tom Stoppard and directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.
‘The play hasn’t been done here before and is going straight to the West End afterwards,’ Jonathan adds.
And he believes the 25th anniversary production of Caryl Churchill’s play, Top Girls, directed by Max Stafford-Clark, ‘will be electric in the Minerva’.