Key themes in Justin Audibert’s first Chichester Festival Theatre season

Key themes will run through Justin Audibert’s first season as artistic director at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Coram Boy - Chichester Festival Theatre 2024 (contributed pic)Coram Boy - Chichester Festival Theatre 2024 (contributed pic)
Coram Boy - Chichester Festival Theatre 2024 (contributed pic)

“I'm not saying I will always do this,” Justin explains, “but I themed the season, and in some ways that did make it easier. It narrows down your choices. So this season really is the journey of the outsider, the journey of the lesser-known stories through history, the slightly overlooked stories of English history and English society. And it seems a really great moment to do that. I would say that we are at a time of turmoil now in lots of different ways. It felt like a great place to start my tenure here in Chichester by trying to give some context to what is happening now. There are ripples from the past to what is happening now, things from the past that are still relevant now and those are some of the things that we're exploring. In a way it was really helpful to frame the season in that way even if it did mean that there were some projects that I really loved but that I had to put aside for this year.

“Within that theme it allows me to go from something set in the Tudor times all the way through to now in The House Party, something which could actually be set tomorrow. And it gives me the chance to look at individuals and at individual acts. But it also gave me a chance to look at institutions through time from the Tudor court to Coram’s Foundling Hospital to the poor houses through to the NHS. It meant that I could spend some time presenting work that deals with the dramas that come out of these institutions and it also means that we have got a strain of cultural change, from The Caretaker set just before we turned into the 1960s to the new play Redlands about The Rolling Stones and the counter culture clash that they represented.”

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More generally: “I wanted the Festival Theatre (main house) really to go for a big sense of theatricality, big casts, big numbers and shows that really are about celebrating that space fully whereas in the Minerva I wanted to be able to lean much more into claustrophobia that you can create there. You've got The Caretaker and The House Party and you've also Got The Promise as well. I was really interested in playing on both of those sides, in the two theatres that we've got. But I was also really conscious of having new writing in the Festival Theatre as well hence The Other Boleyn Girl and Redlands. I believe we have an audience in Chichester and West Sussex and further beyond that is really prepared to engage with new works.”

Central to the season will be the big summer musical Oliver!: “When I was a child it was always a show that was deeply important to me. The list of songs in it is just amazing. If it is not the greatest British musical, then it is fairly up there. Those songs are unbelievable. But it's also the story. I certainly didn't have a Dickensian childhood! But I do think every child will sometimes have a sense that they don't quite fit in or that they're not in the right place at the right time. I remember being taken to see Oliver! at the Birmingham Hippodrome and fell in love with it and I watched the film. And there's something that is just so secretly joyful about all these children that are together in the gang. Every child has that fancy that they're going to run away from home and spend all their time with a rabble of children.

“But also the Dickensian themes of neglect and cruelty and want are still very much with us. We see them now and they're very prevalent. I think there is a political thread that runs throughout the whole season but to have Matthew Bourne directing and choreographing the show is a real coup for us.”

Priority booking for Friends of Chichester Festival Theatre opens: Saturday, February 24 (online and booking forms only); Tuesday, February 27 (phone and in person). Booking for groups and schools opens: Thursday, February 29. General booking opens: Saturday, March 2 (online only); Tuesday, March 5 (phone and in person). Tickets from £10;; box office 01243 781312.