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: 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