Blog: Why Chichester?

Chichester, Festival Theatre, Cathedral
Artist impression of the Festival Theatre’s place in Chichester – click image for full size

A lot of the work I’ve been doing lately for Pass It On has concentrated on the early years of the Theatre. Founded in the sixties as a theatre for the community, by the community, I like to think that nothing has changed regarding this statement. There is something, for sure, about being a local Cicesterian and feeling tied to the Theatre. This was something that was important to founder, Leslie Evershed-Martin, from the start:

“What else made Chichester the right place for this idea? Naturally, I favoured Chichester because I live there. Few could live in such a city for long without loving its unique atmosphere, and I had always wondered how we could preserve its importance.” The Impossible Theatre (1971, page 9)*.

An overriding element of Leslie’s vision was to create quality creative work in a local community, where one didn’t have to travel to London to see the best shows, but would instead encourage Londoners (amongst other visitors) to the countryside for their live entertainment. In this, he took inspiration from neighbouring operatic production house, Glyndebourne, stating:

“The world-renowned Glyndebourne was set way out in a fold of the Sussex Downs and there it had proved possible to attract audiences from far away. It had been a ‘wildly improbable idea’…perhaps Chichester could work as a theatrical complement to it.” The Impossible Theatre (1971, page 9).

CFT’s countryside location was crucial in attracting these far away visitors, as “Geographically, Chichester was ideal. It lies sixty miles from London, and is approached by routes through glorious country in Surrey and Sussex. These routes were well known by those who came for the races at the traditional ‘Glorious Goodwood’ meeting held annually on the Duke of Richmond’s estate…The coastal road and the railway traversing the same strip of coast made access to Chichester simple for the people of the surrounding counties.” The Impossible Theatre (1971, page 7). This also secured Leslie’s vision in maintaining the Theatre’s aesthetic of being a ‘Theatre In The Park’**, whereby the Theatre wouldn’t blend in with surrounding buildings and venues but act as a concrete compliment to the leafy green of Chichester.

*You can purchase a copy of The Impossible Theatre, the prequel to The Miracle Theatre, here.

**In 2013, during the RENEW build, CFT constructed a fully functioning auditorium in Oaklands Park, that housed the main productions of the Summer festival (Barnum and  Neville’s Island), adhering to Leslie’s vision of a ‘Theatre In The Park’ whilst the Festival Theatre was closed.