Happy return for former Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director

Jonathan Church has recently become a grandfather – and it’s slightly as a grandfather that he views returning to Chichester Festival Theatre which he ran so successfully for ten years.

Jonathan Church, Ken Ludwig, Henry Goodman in rehearsal for Murder on the Orient Express Photo Johan Persson
Jonathan Church, Ken Ludwig, Henry Goodman in rehearsal for Murder on the Orient Express Photo Johan Persson

He is thrilled to be back at the venue – for the first time since finishing his stint there – to direct Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig) from May 13-June 4.

“Being a grandfather it is great to have all the enjoyment without having to do the dirty nappies.”

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And maybe it’s a bit like that with the CFT.

“I feel it is absolutely lovely to be connected with the theatre in Chichester and to be part of its history but I am very happy to leave the day-to-day running to Daniel (Evans (artistic director) and Kathy (Bourne, executive director).

“It is their theatre now and they are doing a great job. Daniel’s bringing things to the theatre that I just couldn’t do now, and what is great for me is just the feeling that I am part of a big extended family.”

Jonathan oversaw the theatre’s 50th anniversary, masterminding the multi-million pound refurbishment of the building which was effectively its anniversary celebration.

“And I think Daniel now has come up with a fantastic 60th anniversary season. Alongside Our Generation and The Taxidermist’s Daughter, Murder On The Orient Express will be part of the mix and part of the breadth of the work that he has put together. The Taxidermist’s Daughter is an exciting new adaptation and Our Generation is an exciting new play.

“Murder On The Orient Express is something that will appeal to the more traditional populist audiences. I think the mix of the season is bold.

“The idea of doing the Christie was dreamt up between a number of people. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation had existed in America and it just became a conversation piece about who was going to get the British rights and in the end clever Chichester got lucky, and Daniel asked if I would like to do it.”

Jonathan is particularly delighted to be working once again with Henry Goodman who will be his Poirot: “What we are seeing during rehearsals and what this adaptation allows him to do is not to be frightened.

“You’re looking at Poirot like a great character, like a Shylock or Richard III, one of the great characters that many actors have played and you can’t ignore that.

“All these famous actors have found something in it and Henry is not shying away from exploring what other people have done but he is also bringing something new to it.

“The final scene, the incredible summing up of what has happened, gives an actor like Henry a wonderful opportunity to really dissect all that has gone on and the moral issues around the play.

“Working with an actor such as Henry brings almost something Shakespearean to it.

“The point is that it is always different and a new angle.

“Ken has condensed the piece to a fewer number of passengers for practical reasons.

“He has reduced it from 12 to eight, but the other thing that I’ve admired about Christie while I’ve been doing this is that as an audience you are looking for all the suspicious things that are happening in the moment as you see the play or as you read the book, but the cleverness of Christie is the fact that the reality of what is actually happening is really somewhere else.

“You see that duality and I think it is really impressive.

“This is my first return to the theatre to be working there in five or six years and it’s lovely to be coming back. I have been in the audience a lot but this will be the first time I have set foot on the stage in all those years.

“It will be magical.

“And there are lots of old friends but as I say it is Daniel’s and Kathy’s theatre now and they’re running it brilliantly.”