Chichester Festival TheatreYour Memories (continued)

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Memory: The Lady’s Not For Burning (1972)


Dr Kildare was played by Richard Chamberlain and I remember the excitement of seeing someone from the TV onstage at Chichester. Chamberlain was one of the most sought-after film and television actors of the time.

From: Anon

Memory: The Beggar’s Opera (1972)


This was a fantastic musical experience, I remember the audience dancing outside the Theatre. It’s also particularly special for me as it was the first season I worked at Chichester.

From: Anon

Memory: Terra Nova (1980)


Read about the set and costume design of Terra Nova.

1. Decades ago but we remember it to this day as a fantastic use of the Theatre to invoke the Antarctic conditions, isolation of the men etc. with fantastic acting by a small cast – and didn’t rely on a ‘famous name’ to draw in the crowds. I remember it was one of those performances I love where its ‘must-see’ passed by word of mouth.

From: Lesley Parker

2. I remember this performance by Hywel Bennett as being absolutely outstanding – and I clearly remember being amazed on leaving the theatre to find that Oaklands Park was not under several feet of snow and ice!

From: Mary Sharp

3. My most memorable CFT production was Terra Nova which told the story of Scott’s last expedition.

From: Paul Smithers via Twitter

Memory: Talking Heads (1996)

Maggie Smith in Bed Amongst the Lentils
Maggie Smith in ‘Bed Amongst the Lentils’


Shortly after her towering and award-winning performance at Wyndham’s in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, Maggie Smith’s next stage role was entirely different but perhaps even more extraordinary. In the small Minerva Theatre at Chichester, she recreated her television role in Alan Bennett’s Talking HeadsBed among the Lentils (also directed by Alan Bennett). In the space of 50 minutes she performed the monologue, and was extremely funny (“…Geoffrey’s bad enough…but I’m glad I wasn’t married to Jesus…”), but in an instant she silenced the entire audience, moved many to tears, and in the last 10 minutes you could hear a pin drop in that very small studio theatre, with Smith standing only feet away. I still remember the lengthy pause at the very end before people felt they could applaud. Richard Eyre in his diaries referred to the performance as, “Maggie Smith, on her own, in a class of her own”„, while the Independent’s critic Paul Taylor said it was “brilliant beyond belief”„, and Jack Tinker simply said that “Smith is ahead of the rest”.

The monologue was paired with Soldiering On, performed by Margaret Tyzack, a close friend of Maggie Smith. It is a very tricky monologue, relying hugely on dramatic irony, but Tyzack achieved the delicate balance between showing enough intelligence while also hinting at self-delusion in a highly subtle and moving performance.

Margaret Tyzack in Soldiering On
Margaret Tyzack in ‘Soldiering On’


The entire production was a highlight of the 1990s at Chichester, and was a commercial success too: it transferred shortly after to the Comedy Theatre (as it was then called), and was even revived ten years later in 2005 to tour New Zealand and Australia (in a remounted production directed by Anthony Page), where Smith won the Best Actress award of the year at the Helpmann Awards. Memories of this Chichester production may have faded due to Smith’s deserved success in another Bennett play a few years later, The Lady in the Van, but it deserves to be added to the list of Dame Maggie’s other definitive performances at Chichester…like Millamant in The Way of the World, or Desdemona in Othello.

From: Paul Burditt