Coronavirus: tough decisions ahead for Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre bosses are clinging to their hopes of starting the summer season with South Pacific at the beginning of July.

Chichester Festival Theatre's Kathy Bourne (Executive Director) and Daniel Evans (Artistic Director) Photo Seamus Ryan
Chichester Festival Theatre's Kathy Bourne (Executive Director) and Daniel Evans (Artistic Director) Photo Seamus Ryan

But for that to happen, rehearsals would have to be starting in just a few weeks’ time.

CFT artistic director Daniel Evans admits that time could well be against them – a cruel blow given that South Pacific was shaping up to become the CFT’s best-ever show in terms of ticket sales.

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“It is so hard. You see Wimbledon being cancelled. You see the Edinburgh Fringe being cancelled. We have been doing a lot of serious planning. We are five weeks away from rehearsals, and we have got to face the fact that it could be looking unlikely.”

There is a feeling that theatres, as obvious mass gatherers of people, could be among the last sectors to get back to work.

As for South Pacific: “We are not quite at the point where we have to make a tough call. It will have a massive effect on us. We have sold something like 30,000 tickets for it so far. It was on its way to being a record-breaking show for us, but I think, after Easter, we will have some serious decisions to take.

“We hear the London theatres are hoping for September opening. If they manage that, it will be fantastic. I think our audiences might follow them a few weeks later, but we just don’t know. We just can’t answer those kinds of questions. It is completely impossible to know.”

It all comes as a deep disappointment, but Daniel says he is still counting his blessings in so many ways – not least the way the CFT staff and everyone associated with the organisation has responded.

The theatre’s caterers Caper & Berry have been supporting key workers from their van at QA hospital; Chichester Festival Youth Theatre has created a beautiful video of Stand By Me as a message of hope to people in isolation in care homes; the theatre’s van, in collaboration with UKHarvest, has been delivering food to food banks; and the CFT’s accommodation in the old Comme Ca building is being used by NHS staff.

Inevitably, it is a difficult time for everyone: “This morning we had a full Zoom meeting, 62 people on Zoom, and a lot of us were feeling quite emotional. We take so many things for granted, like going into the office and being able to saunter across to someone’s desk and have a chat. Thank goodness for the new technologies. At least you can see people’s faces, but it is not the same.

“But then you think of the wonderful things that our young people have been doing, and you realise that the creativity out there is so inspiring, that there is a real appetite out there for doing wonderful things.”

As things stand, Chichester Festival Theatre are hoping to go ahead with South Pacific (July 6-August 29), The Unfriend (July 17-August 22) after announcing the cancellation of the first four plays of the season; Brecht’s The Life of Galileo (which was due to run in the Festival Theatre, April 24-May 16), Stoppard’s The Real Thing (Minerva Theatre, May 7-June 6), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Festival Theatre, May 29-June 20) and Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike (Minerva Theatre, June 12-July 4). The aim is to stage The Life of Galileo and The Real Thing in the autumn (new dates will be announced in due course). They would hope to mount the other two productions at some point in the future.

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