Why Chichester Festival Theatre’s new venue is great news for us all

The Nest at Chichester Festival Theatre - artist's impression - Hayes Davidson for Reed WattsThe Nest at Chichester Festival Theatre - artist's impression - Hayes Davidson for Reed Watts
The Nest at Chichester Festival Theatre - artist's impression - Hayes Davidson for Reed Watts
There is something genuinely exciting and hugely appealing about Chichester Festival Theatre’s proposed new theatre, a third space which will run alongside the main house and the Minerva and complement them both.

With the main house at Chichester Festival Theatre we’ve got a large auditorium of absolutely international standing, home to first-class productions which attract the finest talent both on and off the stage. And on a much smaller scale, we’ve got the Minerva, just the same quality, but perhaps more innovative, more edgy, more willing to take risks – a place where the rewards at times are consquently even greater.

But in advocating The Nest, the Festival Theatre has highlighted precisely what we haven’t really got in this city, that much-prized much smaller venue where the sense of community ownership will be even greater, the risks even higher, the flexibility enormous and the possibilities endless.

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Of course we all love theatre on the grand scale when the emphasis is on spectacle, but aren’t the pleasures so often more intense when we take things down a notch or two or three or four. The Nest will be around a third of the size of the Minerva – and it feels like a size that is going to open up a whole world of opportunities.

Of course, we’ve had discussions of third theatres before, long, long ago in the days of Duncan Weldon as artistic director when the discussion was of something mid-way between the main-house and the Minerva. The suggestion got the frostiest of responses and never got off the ground.

But this time the CFT isn’t wanting the middle ground. It’s going for smaller still – and your every instinct tells you that they have got it right.

They are promising their new 120-seat studio theatre will be a “vibrant hub for talent development and innovative and community performances.” And the point is that they have done the ground work. This hasn’t just come out of nowhere as Weldon’s mid-way proposal did. This one has come out of experience.

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It’s exciting and it is new, but it is not as if we’ve not been here before. The Nest will hark back to the days at the CFT of The Tent, Theatre on the Fly and The Spiegeltent, places where the venue could “do something a little bit different to our usual programming.”

For the theatre it’s about “an increasingly urgent need for more space to develop creative projects and support emerging artists”, and The Nest looks just the ticket. Designed to complement Chichester Festival Theatre’s existing spaces and sited between the Festival Theatre and Northgate car park, it will support artists and technicians at the beginning of their careers, including local writers and performers, and offer entertainment for a younger audience. It will also provide a space for CFT’s ever-increasing community programme, such as work with vulnerable adults, the Technical Youth Theatre, and early years (ages 0-3) activities.

Daniel Evans did a remarkable job keeping the ship afloat during all the horrors of the pandemic. His was an astonishing achievement – and the theatre will be forever in his debt. Now new artistic director Justin Audibert, alongside executive director Kathy Bourne, can let the ship sail in this exciting new direction.

The core of the new building will be an existing temporary structure, previously located in London and Edinburgh. By reusing an existing building, sustainability is at the proposal’s heart. It ticks all the boxes.

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Audibert has made a thrilling start to his tenure at the CFT. This is going to be a great next chapter – absolutely in addition to everything that the theatre already does and does so well.

As Dame Patricia Routledge, president of the Nest Appeal, says: “For us to create The Nest and have it ready for 2025, we need to raise at least £1.5million by the end of March 2025. We’ve set aside £250,000 from our own reserves to kickstart the fundraising appeal – now we need your help!”

If you'd like to discuss supporting this project or learn more about it, the theatre would love to hear from you. Call 01243 212869 to chat to a member of the team.

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