After success before Christmas in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband on the main-house stage at Chichester, Robert Bathurst launches the new year in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre with Love, Loss and Chianti, a piece of his own devising.
His aim is that audiences will come away not having realised they’ve been watching poetry.
The piece is based on two ‘lyrical narratives’ by the award-winning writer Christopher Reid.
The first, A Scattering, sees Robert on stage alone, articulating Reid’s response to the death of his wife. The piece won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2009. It now comes to the stage performed with original composition for viola and cello by Tom Smail.
In the second, The Song of Lunch, Robert (Cold Feet, Downton Abbey) shares the stage with Caroline Faber (Merlin, A Good Murder).
Over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Soho, a man attempts to rekindle an old flame, but as the wine flows, nostalgia gives way to the truth in – Robert promises – the superbly-crafted drama of a disastrous date. The piece will be performed with an animated setting by the Daily Telegraph’s Alex cartoonist Charles Peattie.
And the good news for Chichester is that Robert is offering them both as a world premiere.
‘I shouldn’t be shy about it being poetry. It is clear and it is so emotional and it is so direct. My ambition is for people to leave the theatre without being aware it’s been poetry they’ve been listening to.
‘When I read the first one, The Scattering, I thought ‘This needs an audience!’ I love the character set-up. It is just the most wonderful expression and meditation on grief, but it is never mawkish. It is extraordinarily up-lifting in its own way.
‘It was written after his wife died, and it will be just me on stage with a viola and cello accompaniment. It’s in four parts, and he expresses emotions to the audience which we find very difficult to express as human beings.
‘The first part was written in Crete when she was ill; the second part was written in the hospice. But if anyone thinks ‘Oh, this is going to be heavy’, I’d say ‘You just wait!’
‘And then the second half of the evening is The Song of Lunch, another piece by Christopher Reid. This chap tries to take an old flame out to lunch in Soho 15 years after she left him for a more successful writer than him, and it’s a complete disaster. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s fair to say it’s a disaster!’
Robert has enjoyed success with some try-outs for the night, but he is delighted that Chichester gets the actual premiere.
‘I took [Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director] Jonathan Church out to lunch, and we talked about the idea,’ says Robert who before last November hadn’t peformed in Chichester since the 1980s when he appeared alongside the late Dorothy Tutin in Getting Married.
It most definitely wasn’t that he was staying away, he stresses – something he would never do as far as the theatre is concerned.
For all his TV successes, the theatre is a medium he returns to every year: ‘It keeps you sharp,’ he says.
Love, Loss and Chianti is in the Minerva Theatre from January 22-31.