Hugh Bonneville: "Lockdown has given me a sense of what matters"

The strength of our communities has been a hugely heartening aspect of lockdown for Hugh Bonneville, the star of stage and screen who lives near Midhurst.

Hugh Bonneville
Hugh Bonneville

And that’s one of the reasons he’s so delighted to be joining Chichester Festival Theatre’s Family Fun in the Park event in Oaklands Park on Monday, August 31, part of a day of outdoor performances being staged by the theatre.

“It is going to be wonderful,” Hugh says. “It will remind people that the theatre is trying to find a way back into life, that it is trying to find a way out of this strange cocoon by trying to bring the community together and to say that, yes, we do remember how we used to share our entertainment.

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“The Bank Holiday Monday will be a wonderful way to remind ourselves of these wonderful West End stars (Gina Beck, Gabrielle Brooks, Rob Houchen, Julian Ovenden and Giles Terera) who are coming down to give of their talent because they care about Chichester, because they care about all that the theatre has done for the community.

“Chichester Festival Theatre has inspired an immense affection and respect. It has been the start of so many wonderful shows that have gone on to London and have gone on around the world. And now some of those stars are coming back, and it will be great.”

It’s an extension, in a way, of the community spirit which has emerged and has been highlighted by the crisis at a local level – the way people have looked after each other during the dark times.

“This huge volunteer force that we thought might been needed to fight against the virus has not been as necessary as we might have thought, but people have still been really looking after their neighbours,” Hugh said.

“You can see it just at the level that you check on someone at one end of the village, and you find that somebody is already looking after them. And you realise that we are fortunate in our more rural areas that people do look after each other.

“The crisis brought out the toilet-paper grabbing worst in some people, but in so many other people it has significantly brought out the best. But leading from example by the centre of power has not been so great, with trips to other parts of the country when you weren’t supposed to.”

But for Hugh, that doubly underlines the fact that it is at a local level we have got to look after each other: “And I am very well aware that in the local villages people have been trying to be as sensible as they possibly can. We know how virulent this is, but we don’t know who is carrying it, so it just seems so sensible to wear face coverings. It is just common sense and courtesy.

“I had have had friends whose parents have had it. I have a couple of friends who very very nearly died, though fortunately none of my contemporaries have died. But you do see the younger generation feeling like they are invincible.

“But really the lockdown has given me time to get involved more locally, and it has given me a sense of what matters, and that’s things like love and family rather than just trying to be a hamster in a wheel.

“I have been extremely fortunate that over the last ten years I have been able to select projects more and more carefully. I do so increasingly, and having become an orphan (with the loss of his father earlier this year, before the crisis) at the age of 56, it does make you reflect more about what is actually important.

“And I am aware how fortunate I am. We have made the most of how at the moment you have to live on a day-to-day basis. It’s that whole thing of living in the present. I am not a political animal. I think the politics of where we live is the thing that matters most to me.

“I do think incompetence (nationally) is unforgivable, and we have seen a fair amount of it. It does make me angry and it does make me vocal, but that’s why I am so passionate about what happens in the local area at the local level, and I think lockdown has energised me in that respect.”

Chichester’s Movies and Music Weekend has been put together by Chichester Festival Theatre and Chichester Cinema at New Park. The films will include screen classics Singin’ in the Rain and Some Like It Hot, alongside the popular hits Grease, The Greatest Showman and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, all at the Drive-In Cinema in Northgate car park, produced by the CFT and Chichester Cinema at New Park from Friday, August 28 to Sunday, August 30. Pixar’s latest family comedy Onward will complete the programme.

The CFT’s day of outdoor performances then follows on Monday, August 31.

Hugh Bonneville headlines Family Fun in the Park, reading Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat, with actors using puppetry to bring the stories to life. Families can also join in a fun dance-along.

And then, at a concert that evening, Omid Djalili will introduce songs from the musicals with West End performers Gina Beck, Gabrielle Brooks, Rob Houchen, Julian Ovenden and Giles Terera, joined by CFT artistic director Daniel Evans.

Songs will include a medley from South Pacific alongside hits from West Side Story, Wicked, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady.