@DrumheadDave follows the Pass It On account on Twitter. After nominating ‘Theatre on the Fly’ for CFT’s 100 Greatest, we asked him to share more of his memories about this unique temporary structure.
Of all the celebrations that took place for Chichester Festival Theatre’s 50th anniversary in 2012, ‘Theatre on the Fly’ was the one thing that really captured my imagination and compelled me to get involved. Theatre on the Fly seemed like a blank sheet of paper. It was temporary, it was on the fly, it was an opportunity do and try so many things that the conventions of the main house precluded.
“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us”
Those of us who, like Oscar Wilde, instinctively know that we attend the theatre for the sheer love of the experience, will realise that it has something to do with the metaphysical scrapbooks locked away in our skulls – memories – the stuff of life. Like a good book, a humdinger of a tune, or a masterful piece of cinema, a Chichester Festival Theatre stage production is up there with the best of those cherished memories.
Nothing illustrates this so well as the transcripts of some of the interviews conducted by the dedicated team of oral history volunteers in the Pass It On project. These transcripts reflect a rich history of story-telling that complements the art of stage performance perfectly. Take, for instance, the reminiscences of Catherine Lambert, wife of the late Jack Lambert, Literary and Arts Editor of the Sunday Times. Catherine evokes the magic of a summer evening trip to the theatre in 1964 to see Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun.
“It was a lovely journey in the car going down from London… I used to look for the line of the South Downs and I knew we were coming near to Chichester.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Robert and Philip in the Youth Theatre play, Jane”, said my mother’s friend to my mother, one day in late April, 1991. A stunned silence, then: “What. Youth. Theatre. Play?” was mum’s reply. The play in question was Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations; mum’s response was due to the fact she and my dad had expressly forbidden my brother Phil and I to be involved in it so near to our exams. So I’m ashamed to say, we snuck out of the house anyway each evening for rehearsals and performances. In hindsight, it was an extremely irresponsible thing to do, but I did say I would be candid about these memories.
Recalling memories of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre has been like re-reading a favourite book over again. And Ernie’s is my favourite chapter! As suggested above, recounting these would not be complete nor honest, if left to what we did on stage. When you have outgoing youngsters together in a theatrical environment you will always get the ‘high spirits’, and for me, these were the best bits of Ernie.
On Wednesday 25 June, 60 eager people gathered at the Library in Chichester to hear from Simon Barker, Head of English and Creative Writing at Chichester University. An English Professor and Theatre historian, Simon had been the first professional researcher to be granted access to the Theatre’s emerging archive and we were all looking forward to finding out what he had selected to share with us.
The musical has been around since the mid-nineteenth century. Since about 1866 theatregoers have been packing out auditoriums to see story, song and dance come together. Although opened in 1962, it wasn’t until 1981 that the Chichester Festival Theatre stage brought life to the musical with The Mitford Girls by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin.
The Mitford Girls opened to mixed reviews, some dubbing it ‘marvellous’whilst others preferred the straight acting of the plays they had become used to at their theatre. However, in 1993, the hit show of the season was Pickwick; a musical based on Dickens’Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Both audience and Theatre staff adored the production and it went on to play at Sadler’s Wells, London.