Memory: My First Ever Theatre Visit

Production photograph - Black Comedy - Maggie Smith - Photographer Manuel Harlan - 1965 - H20xW25cm

It was 1962 and I was in the sixth form at Bognor Regis Grammar School (long gone). A small group of us found out that there were a number of cheap tickets available on the day of performance and we fancied the adventure of queuing through the night on the pavement with our sleeping bags.

That is how I got to see Joan Plowright in St. Joan.  Shortly after that I saw Uncle Vanya with an amazing cast, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Sybil Thorndike , Lewis Casson, Fay Compton.  I don’t think I realised at the time that my first experience of theatre at the age of 16 was world class stuff and I got it for quite a small price.

I recall that the theatre restaurant  was in a separate building then and the speciality was danish open sandwiches (which no-one had heard of at the time) and they were unbelievably expensive. I only ever tried one and the price of a few prawns with a blob of mayonnaise  and dill garnish on a small square of rye bread was more than I had paid for my ticket to see the best actors in the world onstage.

In 1965 I was already asleep on the pavement with my friends and a small group of actors came out of the theatre, I guess after quite a late and long session at the bar.  One of them was Albert Finney and his sense of balance was not very good at that moment so he tripped over me and woke me up (my fault I guess –  I was lying on the ground in his way!).

He was then very keen for all of us all to be awake and he wanted to engage us in amusing conversation.  A female companion pulled him away and she said (I do remember the exact words) “Leave then alone – weren’t you ever young?”  I have heard lines delivered by Maggie Smith many times since then but never when lying at her feet as I was that that night.

My adolescent experiences at CFT were the start of an addiction to theatre from which I have never recovered and I still regularly come back to Sussex from Amsterdam (where I now live) to productions at the theatre.

From: Mike Williams

Memory: Make Me A World (1976)

“Make me a world” and another show wonderful Christmas shows. Late 60s? Early 70s? (The latter, I think – our 3 young children loved these, and so did we!)

From: Annette Barker

Memory: Cavalcade (1985)

Press cutting photograph - Cavalcade - 1985 - R Ansley CollectionOur younger son took part and we’re still owners (proud owners!) of a “Cavalcader” badge with Minerva’s head on it.

From: Annette Barker

Memory: Lovesong (2011)

My favourite memory of CFT would be seeing Frantic Assembly’s ‘Lovesong’ the first play to show me how effectively theatre could influence people’s emotions.

From: Alex Wilcox

Other comments: Chichester Festival Theatre was the first theatre I had any exposure to. Living only a few miles away, in Southbourne, it has been a great boon growing up being interested in theatre.

Memory: The Visit (1995)

Signed Programme - The Visit, Ralph Ansley - 1995 - R.Ansley Collection - H24.8cm W17.4cm - 01 of 15

Travelled from London (where I then lived) to see Lauren Bacall on stage (with Joss Ackland in ‘The Visit’). Superb performance by a legendary actress, supported by a terrific cast and memorable staging which included a railway track (and miniature train).

From: Anon

Memory: The Barchester Chronicles (2000)

Photographs rehearsal - Barchester Chronicles - 2000 - J Eydmann Collection - 1 of 3

My best memories of CFT are of The Barchester Chronicles in April 2000. There was one professional director, Roger Redfarn, and some 300 amateurs who included actors, costumiers, make-up artists etc. I was in the dance team and in the crowds. It was great fun and a good re-launch for the theatre.

From: Jim Tice

Memory: Treasure Island (1973)

treasure island

I remember this Christmas production, starring John Clements, had very stirring music. It was very good. There was also a real parrot in the production and I can still remember the parrot auditions now!

From: Anon

Memory: Uncle Vanya (1962)

Joan Plowright & Laurence Olivier

1. Uncle Vanya, I like Checkov anyway, but it had Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Louis Casson, Sybil Thorndike, Joan Greenwood, all of whom were important actors at the time when I was coming, you wouldn’t know them you’d only have seen them when they’re on film but that was very exciting and it came back the following year.

From: Beryl

2. Your very first opening production of Uncle Vanya. . . . We’ve never ever forgotten it…was it really fifty years ago?

From: Julia Parker

Other comments: (we come to you about once a year as we now live in Sydney Australia so hang about for a week or two, as with brother and sister-in law we will be booking very soon for Guys and Dolls. We love the theatre…Heartbreak House was a stunner too!) I’m on your list so I keep up with what’s going on. See you in August or September! Also we look forward to pre-performance dinner too! Cheers Julia Parker and husband Derek too!

3. A never to be forgotten production which starred Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Sybil Thorndike, Rosemary Harris. etc. etc.

From: Derek Scott

4. The production of Uncle Vanya in 1962 with Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Joan Plowright, was brilliant, and moving, I came from London for the day with my schoolfriend Christine, it opened our eyes to Russian drama and was the start of many excellent plays we saw in Chichester, even today looking back it still stands out in my memory, and seeing the DVD of the original production confirms my judgement.

From: Anon

Memory: Uncle Vanya (1996)

Trevor Eve & Derek Jacobi1. A superb production, brilliant cast, excellent design, and first-rate translation.

From: Elizabeth Adams

2. Derek Jacobi and Trevor Eve in ‘Uncle Vanya’, I felt I was sitting in the Drawing room with them. It was the first time I had seen a Chekhov play and it was so well acted that it has made me watch more, but nothing as enthralling as this production.

From: Ralph Ansley

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: 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 Magistrate (1969)

1969 the magistrate

John Clement’s superlative production of Pinero’s farce was the showcase for Alastair Sim’s greatest onstage performance ever, as Aeneas Posket. His tour de force included an unscripted sequence where he spent several minutes simply washing his face – getting soap in his eyes, losing his towel, etc – in itself a class act in comedy. Add to this Patricia Routledge’s performance as Agatha Posket, her star then in the ascendancy, in the first of her many Chichester appearances. The Chichester run was followed by a highly successful run at the Cambridge Theatre in London. Surely one of Chichester’s greatest.

From: Laurie Slade

Memory: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (2012)

arutro uiThe amazing atmosphere of menace, the growing dread, the brilliant, mesmerising acting of Henry Goodman, starting as a figure and becoming horrific and compelling, as well as the rest of the cast and the production contributed to an amazing and chilling play that stayed in the memory.

From: Anon

Memory: The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964)


It was just such a spectacular production. My mother brought us down from London to see the play.

From: Rosemary Hodge

Memory: The Unknown Solider and His Wife (1968)


A comedy which nevertheless points up the futility of war by showing Mr Everyman being sent off to war through the ages, and the effects on his wife.

From: Anne Barry

Memory: Nathan The Wise (2003)


A completely compelling piece of theatre. Superbly acted across the entire cast.

From: Jill Martin

Memory: Nicholas Nickleby (2006)

nicholas nickleby 2006

1. …the one that I carry around in my heart is the production called Nicholas Nickleby. It was a very large ensemble show and it took place over two evenings as it’s so long. It was in the very first year that I came here and so it was a huge great risk to do it, but it worked and the audiences loved it and clambered to see it. It went from playing to two hundred people a night in the first week that it opened, to being completely full with twelve hundred people within the period of the eight weeks it was playing on the stage. So it was-it was thrilling for many reasons because it was a big risk to do. It was a brilliant show and so one that I remember very fondly.

From: Alan F

2. It captured all the richness of the novel and was a brave and epic production. I came twice, and ached with laughter and was moved to tears on both occasions. Hats off to Philip Franks!

From: Anon

Memory: Pressure (2014)


What a fantastic performance. Held one in its grip for the whole performance and just how much communication has changed since then. You could feel the pressure they were under.

From: Polly Davenport

Memory: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (2011)

rosencrantz 2011

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead… I loved that. I love the play and I thought the production was excellent, absolutely excellent. It was done as if it was absolutely fresh and happening for the first time on the stage that night. I mean sometimes you can see plays and you know that they’ve been doing it for weeks and every night they’ve been churning this stuff out. And it’s a play that’s been around for a long time. But even despite that, they did it in a really fresh way.

From: Peter

Memory: Scapino or The Trickster (2005)

123 Scapino or the trickster We so enjoyed this magical and hilarious production with Richard McCabe playing the lead role – and our children loved it too – so we came twice. On the second performance, one of the actors was stuck on a train journey and another actor had to come on and read the part from the script, but it still came across brilliantly.

From: Stephen Mollett

Memory: Singin’ in the Rain (2011)

singin' in the rain 2011

Read about the use of water and stage design in Singin’ In The Rain.

1. This was such a wonderful production, full of energy and talented performers. The creative team involved created a masterpiece.

From: Luna

2. Uplifting,joyous fun innovative production staging, great choreography, energetic committed cast.

From: Keith Seston

3. I can not choose between ‘Singing in the Rain’ with Adam Cooper & the delectable Scarlett Strallen and ‘„ƒSweeney Todd’ with the brilliant Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball plus some incredible scenery. They were two incredible productions in the same summer and then both of them deservedly going straight up to the West End. These shows were so good that when you left the theatre you would have gone straight back in and seen them all over again.

From: Ralph Ansley

4. Best show was “Singin’ in the Rain”.

From: Anon

5.  The staging of Singing in the Rain. The water and rain scene.

From: Anon

Memory: Song of Singapore (1998)

Issy Van Randwyck

It was one of the most enjoyable shows I have ever seen and the Minerva was the perfect venue.

From: Roy Barbour

Memory: Sweeney Todd (2011)

Sweeney Todd 2011

1. Fantastic staging and casting – a production that I will remember for a long time.

From: Sian

2. I can not choose between ‘Singing in the Rain’ with Adam Cooper & the delectable Scarlett Strallen and ‘„ƒSweeney Todd’ with the brilliant Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball plus some incredible scenery. They were two incredible productions in the same summer and then both of them deservedly going straight up to the West End. These shows were so good that when you left the theatre you would have gone straight back in and seen them all over again.

From: Ralph Anslee

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

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: Master and Margarita (2004)


An outstanding new adaptation by a local playwright of the book of the same name, superbly directed and acted.

From: John Wilton

Memory: A Little Night Music (1989)


Subtle, ethereal, funny – just a lovely delicate production. Dorothy Tutin and the entire cast were magnificent and this sparked a love of Sondheim ever since!

From: Helen Chown

Memory: Barnum (2013)


  1. Blazing sunshine, a tent in the park and a pitch-perfect production of a criminally underrated musical. What more could you want from a summer’s evening?

From: Matt Merritt

2. Barnum was terrific

From: Anon

Memory: Blood Brothers (1987)


This was the version of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers with Con O’Neill and Kiki Dee.

At the end there was a few seconds of complete silence followed by everyone standing up and applauding. It was a special moment following two very outstanding performances.

From: Ralph Ansley

Other comments: It was the show that made me see shows I did not now much about.

Memory: Born Again (1990)

Daring exciting theatre -the memory of Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin zip-lining above the audience will stay with me forever and the rhino costumes were fantastic. It opened my eyes as a young student at the time to absurdist theatre.

From: Anon

Memory: Calendar Girls (2008)

calendar girls

My favourite production at CFT has to be Calendar Girls- funny, moving and a fantastic set.

From: Sarah Smithers

Memory: Coriolanus (1992)


1. This was my first ever shift at CFT in the summer of 1992.

I worked front of house and was blown away by the production.

It stared Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Briers, Emma Thompson, Iain Glen to name but a few. My husband said I would not like Shakespeare but it was truly amazing. I am fortunate to still be working front of house but that particular performance still remains at the forefront of many amazing memories from working for CFT.

From: Julia Butterworth

2. Visually stunning, fantastic cast and superb production.

From: Maureen Haynes, who also says ‘Barchester Chronicles (community cast) of which I was a part – unforgettable’.

3. Gala Performance – It had Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Iain Glen and the late Richard Briers all giving brilliant performances in front of the Prince of Wales to celebrate 30years of the CFT.

I could go on and on but will not bore you just to say it made me appreciate Shakespeare and the art of acting.

From: Ralph Ansley

Memory: Cyrano de Bergerac (2009)


Absorbing from start to finish with a superb cast!

From: Anon

Memory: Electra (1997)

Zoe Wanamaker & Andrew Howard

Excellent production that inspired the dissertation that completed the final year of my degree in Theatre Studies.

From: Elizabeth Adams

Memory: Enron (2009)

Enron-235 crop

1. My most memorable show would be Enron. I planned to come, I booked tickets and they sent me a letter saying, “we’ve changed the script and it’s got ruder.” And I thought “well, I’ll go.” And I was blown away by it, it was fantastic. So I’d gone in, not thinking I was gonna- cos I don’t like expletives. But it was such a good play, it was fabulous.

From: Julie C

2. Fantastic cast and well produced play and my daughter played the daughter in it!

From: Andrew Whitwell

3. I was persuaded to go to the opening night of Enron in the Minerva Theatre by a friend. The idea of a musical about the collapse of a US energy company did not fill me with anticipation, but I am so grateful for my friend’s insistence. From the opening scene, I sat open-mouthed in wonder. It was clever, funny, inventive, irreverent and down-right dirty, and I went on to see it again several times, both in the West End and then on its return to Chichester. It has stayed vividly in my memory ever since.

From: Sarah Mayhead

4. Fantastic production with a brilliant cast.

From: Paula Solieri