Chichester: grateful memories of a precious moment on stage

Last year Spencer Dixon played the French Fisherman in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s aborted production of Pinocchio.

Lewis Renninson & Spencer Dixon in rehearsal for CFYT's Pinocchio 2021 (C)Richard Gibbons
Lewis Renninson & Spencer Dixon in rehearsal for CFYT's Pinocchio 2021 (C)Richard Gibbons

This year, with everyone hoping they won’t be shut down by the pandemic on Christmas Eve, Spencer is stepping up to be one of the two actors playing Geppetto.

Spencer, who’s 15, said: “I really, really loved my role last year but this year is such fun as well.

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“But last year was such an honour the entire time to be on that stage. It just felt very precious and I felt very grateful that I was able to be part of the theatre at a time when a lot of people could not go on the stage. It did feel very different.”

They obviously knew there was the threat of closure.

“We didn’t want to think about it, but we had to prepare for everything stopping and then when we did get cut off it was obviously very disheartening. It was such a shame but we did feel we had really achieved something.

“I started with the youth theatre towards the end of year 6 (aged 11). I think it was just ever since I was very little that I have always just loved creating and acting and singing and things like that. It has always been something that I have spent my time doing.

“I had done some bits and pieces at school and I had been part of theatre companies like Saturday stage school and so on so when I came here I thought this was something that I really wanted to do, something that I really wanted to put my time and energy into.

“I did my first show, Sleeping Beauty, and that was great.

“I was one of the courtiers. I had a big golden pole that I ran around with and we sang the funniest song in the world. It was just great fun. I did Sleeping Beauty and I did Wizard of Oz and I did Pinocchio 1 and I am now doing Pinocchio 2.”

Playing Geppetto is great: “I think it is the fact that in the show you have to believe that Geppetto is the most human character. You’ve got all sorts of things, fairies and crickets and so on whereas Geppetto is simply an old fella. He is obviously human in the way that he presents. He is not some animal. But he’s also human in the way that he makes mistakes and he makes them all the time but he learns from them.

“He makes lots of mistakes when he is thrown into the life of being a father and parenthood.

“He doesn’t always go about it in the right way. He thinks that you’ve got to fit in with everyone else and that you don’t need to be different but he learns.”

Rehearsals have inevitably been different to last year: “There are still restrictions. We are all being safe and wearing masks and testing but obviously this year we can have more people in the room and it is so nice being with so many more people again.”

Last year there were two separate casts of about 30 each; this year they can have one company, double that size, all on stage at once.

“Last year with the smaller cast it was just amazing, like a real family group of people.

“It was so close knit and actually this year it still is but we have new people and also it’s just amazing to be able to hug people in the show again this year.

“It will be different in that way as well. It has been amazing to rehearse and I just can’t wait!”

Pinocchio is at Chichester Festival Theatre from December 18-January 1. Tickets from the CFT.