Blog: Stars at CFT: Lauren Bacall

the visit photo
Lauren Bacall as Claire Zachanassian in ‘The Visit’ (1995) – click for larger image

“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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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.”[3],[4] 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.[5]

An interview with Lauren Bacall on the first day of rehearsals – click image for larger size

Though Bacall described Chichester as “a lovely town – a great place to be”, Weldon remembers there was a certain Cicesterian wake-up call she did not appreciate: “She stayed at the Dolphin & Anchor Hotel opposite the cathedral. On Sunday morning, when the bells started ringing, she sent for the manager and demanded that he “stop that bloody noise. I’m trying to sleep!” ”[6]

The production also offered four very lucky girls the chance to perform with Bacall onstage. They were cast from the Youth Theatre, and were all local to Chichester.[7] The run of The Visit was also extended for an extra week to “meet the extraordinary demand for tickets…All matinees before 7 October for The Visit are virtually sold out…one reason for the immense popularity of the two productions is the dazzling casting.”[8]

To this day, this ‘dazzling casting’ is still remembered by patrons of the Theatre, with many comments and memories shared online through our recent Twitter and Facebook tributes to the great actress who sadly passed away earlier this month: “I remember this. She was great!”, “I saw her in this very production and met her afterwards!”, “Feel very privileged to have seen her in that production.”

For those of you wishing to re-visit The Visit, or for those who never got a chance to see it, you can browse through the original programme below. We’ve also been able to feature other items from the archive regarding this production, including press releases, interviews and magazine articles.


[1] ‘Lauren Bacall Pays a Fleeting Visit’, The Independent

[2] Interview with Lauren Bacall (see image)


[4] Interview with Lauren Bacall (see image)

[5] Interview with Lauren Bacall (see image)

[6] Chichester Festival Theatre at Fifty, Mosse, Kate. P. 146

[7] Archive clipping (see image)

[8] Press release