With reopening in prospect, Hazel Latus, who runs the venue, is delighted to confirm they will definitely be there to fight another day. Which isn’t to say that reopening will be straightforward. It will come without monumental headaches.
As Hazel says, plenty of shows had already been booked for 2021 – and into the 2021 calendar she is having to squeeze large numbers of shows which had been postponed from last year.
But it is more complicated than that even. Hazel had been booking shows for January, February and March this year – shows which have now been postponed and rescheduled for a second time. Some shows have had to go into 2022 instead. Some, even, have had to go into 2023. Michael Portillo has been rescheduled twice, as has comedian Simon Evans.
But the key thing is that at least they have got a reopening date marked on the calendar, May 17.
“It has been an unbelievably tricky situation for us and many of our users trying to get everything rescheduled, but we have got through this, I am very pleased to say and very proud to say.”
Financially, things are looking sound: “I am absolutely thrilled. Our staff and volunteers have done a great job. We have got staff on flexi-furlough just to keep things ticking over, but the big pain has certainly been the diary with so many shows being rescheduled!”
Hazel said she certainly plans to return to pantomime this year, assuming panto is permitted: “But we are keeping positive. We were going to do Peter Pan last year, but we might do something else. Peter Pan is an expensive show because we give a nice big chunk to Great Ormond Street Hospital and you have also got the flying which is expensive, so I don’t really know. We will do panto, but maybe we will be looking at another title.”
Long before that, though, will be the May reopening: “We are all really, really keen just to get going. We have got a plan of action to get everywhere tidied up so that everything is looking pristine.
“The theatre needs a bit of brightening up and cheering up again. We are looking at getting the studio and the café open in April if we can.”
Importantly, the theatre has now got reconditioned air-conditioning which means it can increase its socially-distanced capacity.
“With the air flow it had, the venue couldn’t go beyond 80, but now with the reworked air conditioning, it can go up to 50 per cent of capacity, ie 179.”
In May, the venue is looking forward to welcoming the University of Chichester’s students for a production of Fiddler On The Roof.
But Hazel isn’t sure it is going to be a rapid return: “We want to be open in May, but I doubt very much, to be honest, if it will be really open until June or July even. I think people will be a little bit nervous about coming back to the venue until they have had their second jab.
“And some people are not offering shows because they are a bit nervous about whether they will get their audience, but from June in theory we will be able to open without social distancing.
“But even if that does go ahead, I still don’t think we will have full houses – but at least we will be open, and our volunteers are chomping at the bit to be back, although a lot of them will be waiting for their second jab before they do.”