Former National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner delighted to be back in Chichester this summer

Nicholas Hytner directed in Chichester right at the start of his career; he is delighted be back for the Festival Theatre’s 60th anniversary.

Nicholas Hytner - photo credit Helen Maybanks
Nicholas Hytner - photo credit Helen Maybanks

Back in 1985 he directed Sir Donald Sinden in The Scarlet Pimpernel, a production which also featured Alex Jennings whom he returns to direct this summer in The Southbury Child, a new play by Stephen Beresford (June 13-25). The play comes as a co-production with The Bridge Theatre, of which Nick – director of the National Theatre from 2003-2015 – is a co-founder.

“The Scarlet Pimpernel was hilarious. Donald had seen an opera that I had directed in London and I was asked to direct The Scarlet Pimpernel in Chichester. It was a very funny show and Donald was just the kindest, nicest person. He was the most generous spirited man. It was a largely a young company but he led from the front with just such enthusiasm and he was very able to laugh at himself as well which was delightful. He was brilliant. He had such a rapport.”

Happy memories which all add to Nick’s sense of the importance of the Festival Theatre as it celebrates its big anniversary: “The Festival Theatre was the foundation at the National Theatre. That very first season here was the nucleus of what went on to become the National Theatre and as an ex director of the National I've always considered that Chichester was extremely important and central to our theatrical life. But I think the other reason for its significance is that it has consistently been run as a national centre of excellence and most importantly to me I think it is currently being absolutely brilliantly run by (artistic director) Daniel Evans who is quite extraordinary. Daniel’s voice within the theatre as a whole and the leadership he offers not just in Chichester but to the whole of theatre are very special.”

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    And that is crucial as we emerge from the pandemic: “I just got through it in the way that everyone else did. Whenever it was possible to open, we did. We are a new theatre company with no public remit and no public funding. We don't solicit for funding and that means we can do whatever we want and we did whatever we could.”

    And it is great now to return to The Southbury Child which was originally scheduled for 2020 and became one of the victims of the pandemic. In the piece, sharp-witted, wilful and frequently drunk, vicar David Highland has kept a grip on his parish through a combination of disordered charm and high-handed determination. But when his conscience forces him to take a hard line with a parishioner who wants Disney balloons at a family funeral, he finds himself dangerously isolated from public opinion.

    “In the two years Stephen Beresford has developed the play for the better. It is very funny but I think it also shows extraordinary humanity and a complete lack of cynicism. It looks at faith seriously but also the richness of family life and community life, the absurdities and the joys and the complexities.”