It’s impossible to think of an actor who has enjoyed a longer or more successful relationship with Chichester Festival Theatre than Patricia Routledge.
Which makes it all the more appropriate that Patricia should be back on its stage in the first year after the venue’s multi-million pound rebuild.
‘I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the next big adventure,’ says Patricia, for whom Chichester has long been home.
‘Jonathan (Church, artistic director) and Alan (Finch, executive director) wanted me to be part of the 50th-anniversary season (two years ago) which I did, with Facing The Music with the wonderful Edward Seckerson. But I am so pleased now to be back after the refurbishment.’
The piece is Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband which runs from November 21-December 13 on the main house stage, 45 years after Patricia trod its boards for the first time.
‘I first came here to perform in 1969, but I had been brought down to see it when it was still in the process of being built.
‘They didn’t insist on hard hats in those days, but I remember tramping over wood shavings and wires.
‘And I just couldn’t believe it. So many people couldn’t believe it. It really was the most amazing achievement, especially when you think of the opposition (CFT founder) Leslie Evershed-Martin had when he first voiced the idea, and then everyone thought he was absolutely out of his mind when he had the idea of asking Laurence Olivier to start the company. Leslie Evershed-Martin had passion and vision, and he had a dogged determination and belief that it really could be done.’
Patricia’s CFT debut came in 1969 in a summer of wonderfully-happy memories, not least to be working with her idol, the late, great Alastair Sim.
‘He used to take us to supper, and he liked to play devil’s advocate. He was marvellous.
‘One of the most important things I learnt from him about being on stage was always to be patient with a slow audience. Quite often if they are not finding immediately funny things you know should be amusing them, the temptation is to get a little cross. But Alastair would woo them to their knees. It was wonderful to see.
‘I use the word sparingly, but I would say he was a genius – a genius performer. He had that God-given face, and when he moved it there was no one else like him; when you saw that intelligence behind that face, he was amazing.’
Many other CFT roles have since followed for Patricia. An Ideal Husband is simply the latest.
‘It’s a very attractive piece. If I get a script, I read it and I consider the role and I think whether I could knit her together. And I felt I could perhaps knit this one together. She leaps off the page.’
Patricia plays Lady Markby.
‘It really is the most extraordinary piece. You have the brittle wit that you can’t escape from, but it is also a serious piece about corruption and politics and honour and also about personal honour and hypocrisy.
‘I am the woman that does the main damage in the piece without realising it. She just doesn’t realise it at all, and that’s part of the interest in playing her.’