Theatre marks 50th with gala season

DEDICATED drama fans who, like me, search out the very best in regional theatre, will be filling their diary with dates for this summer as the country’s top venue outside London celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Chichester Festival Theatre has become one of this country’s most influential theatres, regularly sending its productions into the West End and on tour around Britain (Yes, Prime Minister, Singin’ In The Rain, The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby and Sweeney Todd to name a few).

This year it has an all-star line-up waiting in the wings to entertain audiences for its anniversary season. Top dramas and musicals have been cast with our finest stage actors to celebrate the life of a theatre that was, last year, voted the best regional venue in the UK.

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It’s only two hours by car from the Leighton Buzzard area and is a perfect location for theatre-lovers who will also enjoy visiting one of the gems in the south of England. A theatre mini-break sounds like my idea of heaven.

Many favourites are set to return this summer including actors Derek Jacobi, Roger Allam, Henry Goodman, Penelope Keith and Michael Pennington.

There will also be two world premieres; A Marvellous Year for Plums by Hugh Whitemore and Canvas by Michael Wynne, as well as Surprises, a brand new play by Alan Ayckbourn, alongside his much-loved classic Absurd Person Singular.

The season opens with a new production of Uncle Vanya (running from March 30 to April 28) with a cast that includes Roger Allam, Dervla Kirwan and Timothy West.

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It’s followed by Penelope Keith in William Congreve’s 18th century restoration comedy, The Way of The World (April 13 – May 5) and Anthony Andrews in Hugh Whitemore’s political thriller, A Marvellous Year For Plums (May 11 – June 2) that is set during the Suez Crisis.

Canvas by Michael Wynne has its world premiere in May (running in rep, as are all of Chichester’s productions, from May 18 to June 16).

It’s a new comedy which takes a witty look at the dilemmas and struggles of modern life. Three couples attempt to get away from it all on a glamorous camping holiday but find that their rural idyll isn’t so perfect after all.

The big summer musical is the Cole Porter classic, Kiss Me Kate, (June 18 – 1 September), directed by Trevor Nunn.

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Porter’s dazzling score is shot through with wit, charm and Broadway energy; it includes Too Darn Hot, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Another Op’nin’ , Another Show, So In Love Am I and Always True to You (In My Fashion).

Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (June 28-July 28) stars Milton Keynes Theatre regular Henry Goodman. This violent, epic parable of the rise of Hitler is one of his most accessible plays, shot through with razor-sharp humour.

Jacobi takes to the stage for a witty exploration of morality, love and social mores in Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (July 6 – 25 August).

Ayckbourn’s Surprises (August 8-September 8) runs with his classic Absurd Person Singular (August 10-September 8). Surprises is a new comedy set in the future while its characters hearts remain tied to the past while Absurd Person Singular is an award-winning comedy of three couples facing three catastrophic Christmases as their attempts at social climbing create an increasing spiral of accidents and emotional crises.

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The festival begins to draw to a close with Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (September 7-29) starring Sex And The City’s Kim Cattrell and Michael Pennington and Noël Coward’s Private Lives (September 21- October 27) with Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens.

And for lovers of Poirot, there’s a special treat. David Suchet is giving a rehearsed reading of Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee on July 15. It is a unique opportunity to hear one of Agatha Christie’s rarely performed plays.

For more information or tickets call the box office 01243 781312 or look online