“Brakes screech, air hisses, lights flash, smoke billows: the train arrives, and with it Lauren Bacall. Auburn hair, dark glasses, ghostly face: the Chichester audience are as bewitched by the entrance of a screen icon as the citizens of Guellen are by the arrival of a multi-millionairess.”
Known for her feisty femme-fatale roles during Hollywood’s Golden Age of Film Noir (think Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (1944) in which she starred alongside her would-be husband, Humphrey Bogart), the casting of Bacall in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit as a wealthy heiress who comes to seek revenge on the man who destroyed her reputation, was deemed by some to be perfect. The play was performed as the first in the 1995 Summer season and Bacall herself thought “it’s a wonderful part…although she’s diabolical, one can use various facets of her personality.”
Bacall was always interested in theatre – she worked as a theatre usher in America in 1941 and stated in an interview held on the first day of rehearsals for The Visit that “my original ambition was to go on stage – not into movies – and I keep going back to it…I would never be given the opportunity to do this in films.”, Bacall had been in talks with Duncan Weldon about the production for 3 years before it came to fruition, waiting for the right space to hold the large cast of 36. When Weldon was appointed Artistic Director in 1995, they decided the Festival Theatre would be the perfect place to try it.
The CFC: Chichester Football Club, the building between the Squash Club and the Theatre. It’s a space the Pass It On team has been working in during the restoration of the Festival Theatre. It’s also where I’ve recently been part of a group opening large parcels wrapped in layers of bubble-wrap and sticky tape, containing framed advertising posters and production photographs of many of the actors who have appeared in plays put on at Chichester Festival Theatre.
The task involved carefully opening the ‘parcels’, each of which had been labelled with various identification numbers and recording information about the contents of each ‘parcel’. We were given a chart to complete for every step of the way, so that nothing was missed. This included details of the label, the condition of the piece, its size and whether it was in colour or black and white. This forms part of the archiving process that is taking place throughout the project. We then had to try and identify the subject/s in the photograph and the production from which it came. Not an easy job. Hardly any of the boards, on which the work was mounted, had any information as to what it referred. They were like lost souls waiting to be remembered.
Some of you may remember an exhibition that was held in 2012 at Pallant House Gallery to coincide with the Theatre’s 50th anniversary. Many of those who attended this exhibition commented on the creative display of ephemera from the Theatre’s history, including old programmes and set designs. In 2015, a new exhibition all about the history of Chichester Festival Theatre will tour several venues across West Sussex, though this time, the entire exhibition will be researched, curated and designed by Pass It On volunteers.
Last week we held our first session to introduce our prospective volunteers to the challenge of creating a modular and interactive exhibition. The exhibition will provide new insight into the inner workings of Chichester Festival Theatre, using items from our archive and memorabilia collection. We’ll also have access to archive footage from the 1960s and audio clips taken from the interviews we’ve been collecting as part of our oral history strand. This allows for interactive possibilities and we’re even planning on running special events and activities during the exhibition’s stay at each venue.
Over a series of posts, I’ll be exploring the casting of a handful of Hollywood actresses who have performed at Chichester Festival Theatre, including Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Joan Collins and Kim Cattrall. There is something of an air of mystery about a Hollywood star; how watching their screen performance is as close as us mere mortals could ever get. And yet, we must remind ourselves those immortal stars of the silver screen are indeed, real-life actors and actresses, and a thespian’s true calling removes all cameras and puts them onto a stage. A thrust stage, to be precise.
Joan Collins comes to Chichester
Joan Collins starred as Mrs. Cheyney in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, the first production of the 1980 Summer Season, which also included Terra Nova, Much Ado About Nothing, and Old Heads and Young Heart. She was no stranger to the stage, having performed in the West End as a young girl since 1946 before heading to America to make her mark in Hollywood (although, of course, it was the television show Dynastythat she is most remembered for) .