Philip takes on task which gets easier and harder

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Actor and director Philip Franks is masterminding his sixth set of Chichester Festival Theatre Christmas concerts - a task which gets both easier and harder.

Compiling, compering and reading are not necessarily natural sidesteps for an actor, Philip confesses.

But after six summers of involvement in Chichester summer seasons, in addition to the six Christmases, there is now a thoroughly-rewarding connection with the audience which Philip enjoys - particularly citing the strong support the rehearsed readings of Rattigan enjoyed this summer. “You meet the audience and I feel part of the community, I suppose - which makes it a great deal easier.”

But the difficulty lies in ringing the changes each year, all within the very specific remit he was given when he took over the concerts.

“My job is to keep it all as seasonal as possible and not to go massively down-market. The brief was to dumb it up. It had got a bit Frosty The Snowman-heavy!”

And in that respect Philip has been able to draw on his love of English music and words. Inevitably, for the latter, Betjemen, Wendy Cope and Joyce Grenfell were the staples, but after that you need to think more laterally.

This year Philip will start to mine the rich seam of Richmal Crompton’s Just William in his various Christmas adventures. Also, it’s a case of thinking more laterally, Philip says. He will be bringing in some American poetry.

Also, it’s useful to bear in mind whatever anniversaries there are: “2012 is the 100th anniversary of Scott of the Antarctic. They were writing home like billy-oh at Christmas trying to keep their spirits up.”

2012 is also the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, though this year’s Chichester Christmas concerts will be a Dickens-free zone, Philip keeping the Dickens powder dry in preparation for the inevitable “Dickens tsunami” which will hit us next year.

As ever, the concerts, running from December 5-10, will feature The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Portsmouth and Chichester Cathedral Choir

Following his debut last year, Major Tony Smallwood returns to conduct the Royal Marines, Portsmouth, complemented by Sarah Baldock directing the Cathedral Choir, with Timothy Ravalde, accomanying on keyboards.

Music will also be provided by the male lay vicars Close Company. Students from Bishop Luffa School and Chichester High School for Girls will also add their seasonal cheer through music and song.

Philip is once again compiling and presenting, and this year he will be joined by co-compere, actress Amanda Root, who appeared in this summer’s CFT production of The Deep Blue Sea.

Tickets on 01243 781312.