Chichester Festival Theatre summer season 2021 gets under way

Rehearsals in vizors have been a bizarre sign of the times, but we are nearly there as the  2021 Chichester Festival Theatre summer season gets ready to start.

It opens with CFT artistic director Daniel Evans directing his revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, a production which was due to be one of the big highlights of last year’s cancelled summer season.

But the CFT’s commitment to the show hasn’t wavered – and it now gets 2021 under way, running from July 5-September 4. The cast includes Gina Beck, Julian Ovenden, Joanna Ampil, Keir Charles and Rob Houchen.

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1943. On an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, US troops are kicking their heels amid the cacao groves while restlessly waiting for the war to reach them.

Nellie Forbush, a navy nurse from Arkansas, finds herself falling for the French plantation owner, Emile de Becque – a man with a mysterious past. The scheming sailor Luther Billis runs a makeshift laundry to earn a quick buck, but he’s no match for the Polynesian Bloody Mary who’s intent on exploiting these foreigners.

For the CFT, it’s a big production – and also a big statement, the best way to signal that they are back in business.

But the theatre, as it has done throughout the pandemic, is putting the safety of audiences, staff and performers first… which has meant a rather unusual rehearsal period.

“When you have a massive cast like South Pacific, how you rehearse is quite something,” as Daniel says.

Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Tobias Key

“There are 31 in the cast and it has gone up. We have had to employ five swings, those actors that are brilliant at understudying many, many parts in the ensemble.

“They will be part of the company, but they are the emergency cover should anyone test positive at any point. We will be employing a daily testing regime. Alongside the rehearsal room there will be a daily testing centre, and we will be rehearsing in visors. It will be weird!

“Obviously a vizor is much better than a mask because you can see people’s faces, but especially in the intimate scenes, it is going to be very very strange. But the government allow fixed working groups and we will be putting the cast in fixed bubbles so that we can do all that is possible.”

South Pacific will be streamed as live on selected dates in August and September.

Daniel is hoping it might be possible to stage the show to full capacity by August, but he is determined to take it carefully.

Hence he has built into the season calendar plenty of scope to extend South Pacific into September if the demand is there.

Completing the summer season in the main house will be The Long Song , a new adaptation by Suhayla El-Bushra, based on the novel by Andrea Levy from October 1-23.

It was a production which was due to run in the Minerva as part of last summer’s cancelled season; this year, more resonant than ever, it switches to the main house.

“We were up for it in the Minerva last year, but it is always a question of balancing things economically and dramatically, and certainly in the Minerva it was going to be bursting at the seams. It is a large cast set in a large landscape.

“We were thinking how we could do it.

“But after this last year when we have had Black Lives Matter and the rise of hate crime, particularly in America, it just felt that the landscape was now demanding us to give this play more space and that it deserves a wider audience in the main house.

“It feels like the stories are resonating now in a much deeper way.”

Tickets for the summer are available from the CFT box office on or 01243 781312.