Chichester Festival Theatre presents Concert in the Park – Review

Chichester Festival Theatre hosted its outdoor concert on August 31Chichester Festival Theatre hosted its outdoor concert on August 31
Chichester Festival Theatre hosted its outdoor concert on August 31
Chichester Festival Theatre returned on Bank Holiday Monday with its outdoor Concert in the Park. Here is Phil Hewitt’s review of the day:

A perfect summer’s evening was the backdrop for a wonderful celebration of the magic of theatre – and of the brilliance of its performers.

The fact that Chichester Festival Theatre stood empty behind tonight’s open-air stage underlined just what a horrid, appalling year this has been.

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But there we were, sitting in our chalk squares in a field, enjoying the CFT’s first live performance since February. And it felt good. Very, very good indeed.

20 years ago, just a few yards away Art Gunfunkel sang from a similar open-air stage in Oaklands Park, to mark the new millennium. Strangely, tonight felt much more significant – a real glimmer of hope.

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It’s impossible to know when we can ever get back to something which we might once have considered normal, but tonight’s Concert in the Park told us emphatically that venues and performers have got the spark, the determination and the flair to find a way.

Omid Djalili was our incomparable compere, introducing a dazzling selection of songs from the shows performed by Gina Beck, Gabrielle Brooks, Rob Houchen, Julian Ovenden, Giles Terera and also the CFT’s very own artistic director Daniel Evans.

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We’ve had several years now to get to know Daniel the director. It was really lovely to get to see Daniel the performer – and even lovelier to think that the night enjoyed precisely the weather it needed.

Even now, it is impossible to conceive just how Evans must have felt to have had his entire season wiped out. His response has been remarkable – always approachable, a first-class leader always ready to talk with complete openness and honesty about all that this crisis has meant and might yet mean for his theatre and the theatre in general.

Evans hugely deserved this moment in the sun – and it was great to sense just how much the audience were lapping it up.

We had a night of highlights. Gina Beck, Gabrielle Brooks and Rob Houchen gave us tantalisingly beautiful glimpses of South Pacific which the CFT was hoping to stage this year – and is hoping to bring to fruition in 2021.

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Beck was enchanting with her Little Mermaid number – and sizzled again with Evans on Cole Porter’s You're The Top; Terera offered a terrific double dose of Dylan and a dip into Hamilton: and Houchen delivered – with help from Beck and Evans – a spine-tingling Into The Unknown from Frozen 2.

But perhaps the real show-stoppers came from Gabrielle Brooks who soared with The Wizard And I from Wicked, with Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High and finally with Dancing in the Street.

Throughout the band were superb, the sound clear and at exactly the right level, the enjoyment enhanced by big screens either side of the stage in true festival style.

Crucial too was the fact that we were all made to feel perfectly safe on a night where clearly everything had been thought out in meticulous detail.

Again, it was theatre showing that there is a way back.

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No one knows when, but tonight was a hugely precious injection of optimism under a beautiful summer’s sky.

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