Singer Gabrielle Brooks back in Chichester in a very changed world

Gabrielle Brooks wowed the crowd at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Concert in the Park at the end of August.

Gabrielle Brooks performs at Chichester Festival Theatre's Concert in the Park Photo Richard Gibbons
Gabrielle Brooks performs at Chichester Festival Theatre's Concert in the Park Photo Richard Gibbons

Now she’s back – and indoors – for Celebrating Sondheim on Sunday, November 1, an evening of music and song to mark Sondheim’s 90th birthday, led by CFT artistic director Daniel Evans. Also performing will be Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell and Hannah Waddingham.

Gabrielle can’t wait to be there – after all the fun of the late-summer open-air concert: “It was really good. It was quite an out-of-body experience, to be honest, just being back on the stage after so long! It was equal parts duck to water and out of body! I don’t know the last time I was on stage. I was doing TV work, so maybe the last time before that was October last year.”

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Since then, it has all been a chance to rethink, Gabrielle says: “For me, lockdown was a really reflective period, to be honest. I was one of those people who had been go, go, go, go, go for a long time, and it was for an awful reason, but in a way it was good to slow down. In a way it was quite energising but it was also quite draining. You lose work and you try to get used to the new normal, but I think in the end, it has changed my relationship with the industry. It has helped me redefine what I feel my role is within the arts.

“I think now I feel that I have got a lot more autonomy. When I am in a rehearsal process or doing a new project, now I think I will be a lot better at bringing my whole self to the project and feeling that it has a lot of importance, that I should be bringing all my experiences, all my culture, all my heritage.

“I think we were all more inhibited as artists (before the pandemic). I think that many people from under-represented groups – whether it is being a woman or disabled or hard of hearing or whatever – have now got an environment where we are going to be listened to, a more open environment. I think people are more likely to listen, and I think it is because of the pandemic. We all had to engage; we have all had to sit down and really listen to each other because there was nothing else to do! It was an unfortunate reason it was happening, but I think we are now having discussions we would not have been having if the pandemic had not happened.

“For me, the conversation is about race. A lot of conversations were happening about race, but they were conversations that were happening around us. We were not actually in those conversations.”

And that’s exactly what Gabrielle hopes will now change.

“I can’t be sure. I can’t speak for everybody. But for me, it has changed my relationship with the industry that I work in, how I feel about the arts. If I am going to be in this industry, I want to be in an industry that makes things happen and not just talks about them. By speaking up, we help others speak up. The change might not even happen in my lifetime, but there just needs to be a lot more honesty, and we need to be able to speak retrospectively as well.

“It is great that we are moving forward, but we also need to address the problems we have had in the past. History does repeat itself if we don’t get to the crux of what went wrong. People think looking back is negative, but that’s part of the way you look forward. You don’t always want to be making the same mistakes.”

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