“The Greatest Festival On Earth”: A claim often made with regards to the Edinburgh Festival but I fear they are sadly mistaken. Yes, Edinburgh is a wild and sleep-deprived hedonistic month of theatre, but the Festival that I think should rightly hold the honour is the Chichester Festival Theatre.
I know what you are thinking: not really a festival in that sense. But on this occasion, you must forgive my slight misgiving.
Since my last blog, I have been happily ensconced in the world of Half A Sixpence and all things Chichester. What a sublime and joyous time it has been. Chichester Festival Theatre remains my favourite place to work. It is near impossible to have a bad day there, even in our darkest hours of technical rehearsal somehow the spirt and energy of the building and its incredible staff carry you through.
You leave the stage door and within seconds you are wandering through the calming park surrounded by nature and peace. As a boy brought up in the country, this gave me great rejuvenation and strength. If only all theatres could be built on the edge of nature, wouldn’t that be wonderful? No cramped Tube rides to work, no congestion-filled streets and no maniacal pace of life. Nature is invigorating, life-affirming and wondrous.
It was a season filled with delight and inevitable sadness. I have been lucky enough to choreograph five musicals there under the helm of Jonathan Church and Alan Finch. These two men were the ones that gave me a break when no one else would dare. They took a chance on a young choreographer, a mighty risk that thankfully paid off. I remember one rather prickly producer asking me in my early days what awards I had won and I answered with all sincerity ‘My Duke of Edinburgh gold” – they were not impressed, they wanted an Olivier or Tony! Jonathan and Alan however were less daunted by my empty mantelpiece and more interested in my future. I am eternally grateful to each of them and will cherish every memory formed in their glorious building.
According to the dictionary a festival is ‘a day or period of celebration’ – how wonderfully fitting. My five years in Chichester have most certainly been a celebration, one that I will never forget.