Chichester Festival Theatre’s Concerts in the Park will be a "moment of joy"

It will be a moment of joy – says Ako Mitchell – when performers and audience come face to face for Chichester Festival Theatre’s Concerts in the Park.

Ako Mitchell
Ako Mitchell

Running from June 3-6 next to the CFT, they come as part of a celebratory weekend of open-air entertainment in Oaklands Park, heralding the reopening of the theatre ahead of the summer musical South Pacific.

On stage for the concerts will be West End artists including Carly Bawden (Romantics Anonymous, Alice, My Fair Lady), Sharon Rose (Hamilton, Caroline, Or Change, Motown) and Ako (Caroline, Or Change, Sister Act, The Color Purple) plus a live band performing beloved numbers from musical theatre and beyond for an uplifting evening of sunshine and song.

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The format will follow the successful model seen at last summer’s events, with a raised stage and screens either side. The concerts will directed by Louise Shephard, whose recent work includes CFT’s Celebrating Sondheim concert, and the musical director will be Theo Jamieson.

Ako can’t wait: “I don’t know how I will feel. I will feel a lot of things.

“There will be joy. I just know that I am grateful that everything is slowly coming back to opening. I am not going to say back to normal because normal is something that is going to have to be redefined.

“But one thing I have noticed is that people do need to be together. They do need to be around each other.

“It is going to be joyous. People will really appreciate how great it is to be sitting together and listening to music.”

Ako was in Stratford-upon-Avon when the first lockdown hit last March in his first season at the RSC, there for a year-long stint.

“We started in January and we were just about to open the season with two shows. One day we were doing all things theatrical, making a pile of bodies, and then the next day we were not supposed to touch anyone. It really was that stark. I think, like everyone else, we just took it day to day and read everything you could about it. It was a time when we really needed to take responsibility for ourselves in a way and really to engage.

“The director brought us all together and said ‘This is big. This is bigger than all of us and anything we are doing here. This is a problem that humanity has to face as a whole.’ You look at it that way and all my little struggles are just part of the collective, and I guess in a way that makes it easier.

“For me, it was very weird. Some things continued. I did a film in late April.

“Everything was so strict. It was a new thing. There were all the protocols. The make-up people were in full PPE. And you weren’t shaking hands.

“But I have a home recording studio luckily which makes it sound more exciting than it is. It is basically me sitting in a closet with blankets! But I recorded like eight audio books. And I also got the chance to do a Christmas special.

“That was October/November. That was Sky. It was the first time being in a room with people since (it all began) – and just singing and moving around.

“We were wearing masks for most of the rehearsals which was weird because part of it all is about seeing other people’s faces.”

And so now we are emerging.

“The industry is taking it very seriously about keeping people safe and keeping audiences safe and obviously the rates (of infection) are way down and the vaccination programme has been really successful.

“Everything is moving in the right direction, but probably it is going to be more psychological now, just the idea of hugging people… especially for theatre people. For us, every day starts with hugs!”

Tickets from the CFT.