HISTORY:Chichester Festival Theatre history

One of the leading producing houses in the country for fifty years; from musicals, to classic drama and innovative new writing.
Inside Chichester Festival Theatre's unique auditorium
Inside Chichester Festival Theatre’s unique auditorium

The doors of Chichester Festival Theatre opened for its first production on 6th June 1962.  The building itself was strikingly modern. The stage was the first of its kind in the UK for 500 years. The play was directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, who had recently returned from Hollywood, and the company included the leading actors of British theatre at the time. The auditorium could seat circa 1,340 people – as many as a major London theatre – and still people queued overnight for tickets. Everything about this new theatre was ambitious, and few would have thought such a thing could be achieved in a regional cathedral city of 20 – 25,000 people.

50 years on and Chichester Festival Theatre is embarking on Pass It On, an ambitious project to capture, collate and share its history. This project is designed to allow for a broad overview of the Theatre’s heritage, with stories and pieces taken from both on and offstage, cast, crew, staff and patron. This, combined with the efforts of a vast volunteering team, ensures that no voice goes unheard in the unfolding of this truly unique Theatre’s history.

You can explore elements of this history on the various pages in this section, on the menu bar above. This includes the history of the organisation (detailing the Theatre’s story decade by decade), research conducted on the use of water on stage, and the script of a devised piece created by one of our Young Playwrights. You can also browse through a comprehensive overview of the Artistic Directors of the Festival Theatre and discover more about the architecture of this unique, Grade 2 listed building. Our Featured Items archive contains examples of ephemera we are currently archiving and digitising throughout the project.


You can also discover more on the Chichester Festival Theatre website.