How Chichester Festival Theatre proved this is the most wonderful time of the year - review

With The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth, led by Capt Dan Button RM and WO2 Bandmaster Matt Bowditch RM, and Chichester Cathedral Choir, directed by Charles Harrison, the Christmas Concerts have returned to Chichester Festival Theatre – from December 5-9, 2023. Gary Shipton was there for the first night.
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The Christmas Concerts are back and nothing signals the start of the festive season in the city with more joy than this musical extravaganza.

These concerts have become an annual theatre tradition – as reassuring as the Christmas trees that hang resplendent from the back of the stage.

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After standing for a rousing version of the National Anthem, the audience is treated to just about every musical variation on the theme of Christmas.

Christmas Concerts have returned to Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Tim HillsChristmas Concerts have returned to Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Tim Hills
Christmas Concerts have returned to Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Tim Hills

Christmas Bells, Christmas Overture, Last Christmas, White Christmas, We Wish You a Britannic Christmas, and even Nightmare Before Christmas, are whisked together in a feast of choral and musical arrangements like a premium plum pudding.

The band brings a military discipline to proceedings – with Heart of Oak and A Life on the Ocean Wave adding an appropriate nautical conclusion.

They are joined by the wonderful Corp of Drums and Close Company.

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The audience sits back, listens and applauds – except for a few inclusive numbers when they are required to sing with gusto too.

Joy To The World and O Little Town of Bethlehem are the two top carols and everyone gets the chance to go over the top in their rendition.

But there is nothing to beat the sheer fun and gusto of The Twelve Days of Christmas – aided by some ‘copyright free’ signs to prompt anyone who may have forgotten the words.

The Christmas Concerts are not designed to surprise nor to shock.

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Like some great, historic tapestry they are rich in detail, powerful and perfect in delivery, and utterly magical. They herald Christmas as potently as the singing angels in the carol.

They are also a reminder that the wonderful, annual Chichester Festival Youth Theatre production is not far off. This year the youth theatre celebrates 20 years of bringing joy to the main-house stage over Christmas with their huge-scale, hugely-accomplished annual productions.