Start planning your trip to Chichester Festival this summer. Actors Joseph Fiennes (pictured), Iain Glen, Charlotte Emmerson, Leila Benn Harris, Natalie Casey, Stephanie Cole and directors Trevor Nunn, Howard Davies (both making their Chichester debuts) and Rupert Goold are amongst the big names who have signed up for this summer’s extended Festival season.

The full season will include six plays – four of them world premieres – and a major revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 Broadway musical classic Oklahoma!, directed by John Doyle, making a break from his signature actor-musician style. Rupert Goold’s now-annual Chichester offering, this year the world premiere of Lucy Prebble’s new play about the ENRON corporate fraud, will subsequently transfer directly to the Royal Court.

As previously announced (See News, 23 Jan 2009), the season’s first four productions are: Simon Gray’s posthumous The Last Cigarette, starring Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost and Jasper Britton and directed by Richard Eyre; Nikolai Foster’s revival of Coward’s 1925 comedy Hay Fever, led by Diana Rigg and Simon Williams; and the return of Ronald Harwood’s Taking Sides and Collaboration, starring Michael Pennington, ahead of their just-announced West End transfer (See Today’s Other News).


Festival Theatre

Following Hay Fever, the CFT schedule in the main house continues, from 14 to 30 May 2009 (previews from 8 May), will continue with Trevor Nunn’s new production of Edmund Rostand’s 1899 romantic swashbuckler Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Joseph Fiennes as the titular soldier, poet, philosopher and duellist who’s unable to win the love of exquisite Roxanne because of his grotesque nose.

Fiennes was last directed by Nunn in 2003 in Love’s Labour’s Lost, the director’s farewell production as artistic director of the National Theatre. Since then, Fiennes has appeared on stage in Epitaph for George Dillon and, last year at the Bush Theatre, 2,000 Feet Away. Nunn’s most recent credits include the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of A Little Night Music, transferring next month to the West End.

Coincidentally, one of Nunn’s biggest musical triumphs during his NT years, Oklahoma!, also features in the CFT programme, with John Doyle’s new production running in the Festival Theatre from 24 June to 29 August 2009 (previews from 5 June). Leila Benn Harris, nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award this year for Imagine This, plays farm girl Laurey, who’s forced to choose between happy-go-lucky cowboy Curly (Michael Xavier) and mysterious loner Jud (Craige Els). The cast also features Natalie Casey (from TV’s Two Pints of Lager, just seen in the West End in Well) as Ado Annie and Michael Matus (also Whatsonstage.com Award nominated for Imagine This as Ali Hakim.

Continuing the Olkahoman theme, CFT artistic director Jonathan Church reunites the creative team behind his Olivier Award-winning revival of Of Mice and Men - Simon Higlett (set), Tim Mitchell (lighting) and John Tams (music) – to tackle another John Steinbeck literary classic, 1939’s The Grapes of Wrath, in Frank Galati’s adaptation which premiered in 1988 care of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

A large ensemble tell the story of the Joads, Oklahoman share-croppers who lose everything during the Great Depression and trek 2,000 miles across country in search of a better life. The Grapes of Wrath runs from 16 July to 28 August 2009 (previews from 10 July) in Chichester and then embarks on an autumn tour care of co-producers English Touring Theatre.

The Festival Theatre summer schedule concludes with CFT associate director Philip Frank’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1954 two-parter Separate Tables, running 17 September to 3 October 2009 (previews from 10 September). Telling two stories linked by the same characters, the pair of one-act plays (Table by the Windos and Table Number Seven) centre around the Hotel Beauregard, a typical small South coast establishment that’s a refuge for the elderly, the lonely and somewhat eccentric.

This modified version, never performed in Rattigan’s lifetime and rediscovered in the 1990s, includes a page of removed dialogue from Table Number Seven in which the character of Major Pollock is arrested for importuning men (rather than women) on the esplanade. Stephanie Cole stars as Mrs Railton-Bell.


Minerva Theatre

In Chichester’s smaller Minerva Theatre, following Simon Gray’s The Last Cigarette and the Ronald Harwood double, the schedule continues with the world premiere of Mike Poulton’s new version of Schiller’s 1800 German classic Wallenstein. On the 250th anniversary of Schiller’s birth, this new piece dramatises the complete Wallenstein trilogy - Wallenstein’s Camp, The Piccolomini and Wallenstein’s Death - together for the first time.

Successful military commander Wallenstein believes he’s the only one who can bring peace to the Empire, but four wintry days of conspiracy culminate in one night of violent score settling. Iain Glen (The Crucible, Hedda Gabler, The Blue Room) plays the title role, with Charlotte Emmerson as Countess Terzky and Sebastian Armesto as Illo. CFT associate Angus Jackson directs the production, running from 29 May to 13 June 2009 (previews from 22 May).

The House of Special Purpose - a new Russian Revolution play about the plight of the Romanov family, written by screenwriter Heidi Thomas (Cranford, I Capture the Castle) - receives its world premiere on 30 June 2009 (previews from 20 June) and then runs until 22 August. National Theatre associate director Howard Davies directs the production, designed by William Dudley.

Director Rupert Goold returns for the final Minerva offering, the previously announced co-production with his Headlong Theatre of ENRON, the new play by The Sugar Syndrome author Lucy Prebble (See News, 29 Jan 2008). Before Texas-headquartered energy company Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, it employed 22,000 people around the world and reported annual revenues of some $111 billion. It later emerged that "America's Most Innovative Company" had been perpetrating a creative and complex accounting fraud for years.

Based on real life, Prebble’s play uses music, movement and video to follow a group of hubristic men and women in their story of greed and loss. Goold’s last two Chichester productions, the Patrick Stewart-headed Macbeth and Six Characters in Search of an Author, both subsequently transferred to the West End. Following its Chichester dates, from 22 July to 29 August 2009 (previews from 11 July), ENRON will transfer to London’s Royal Court, where The Sugar Syndrome premiered five years ago, from 17 September to 31 October.

- by Terri Paddock