As previously tipped, Chichester Festival artistic director Jonathan Church has put together another tantalising season guaranteed to generate some serious two-way traffic: theatregoers travelling south to West Sussex over the summer and, doubtless, a few productions transferring north from the autumn onwards.

Amongst the big names signed up for the season, which runs for an extended period from May right through to November, are Ian McKellen, Michael Ball, Imelda Staunton, Trevor Nunn, Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen, Michael Pennington, Daniel Crossley, Joe McFadden, Dianne Pilkington, Max Stafford-Clark, Nicholas Wright, Jeremy Herrin and Penelope Keith.

Church’s sixth season in charge will see Chichester, for the first time ever, present three major musicals - revivals of She Loves Me, Singin’ in the Rain and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. There will also be a “festival within a festival” celebrating the centenary of British playwright Terence Rattigan’s birth, including revivals of two of his best-known plays, 1948’s The Browning Version and 1952’s The Deep Blue Sea, and Rattigan-inspired world premieres written by David Hare and Nicholas Wright.


In the Minerva Theatre

In the 283-seat Minerva Theatre, the season launches with She Loves Me, running from 16 May to 18 June 2011 (previews from 9 May), directed and choreographed by Stephen Mear (nominated in the 2011 Whatsonstage.com Awards for Sweet Charity and Shoes. The 1960 Broadway musical – with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick – tells the story of Georg and Amalia, two lovelorn assistants in a 1930s parfumerie who squabble by day and, unwittingly, correspond with each otherby anonymous love letters by night.

Later reworked for the big screen as The Shop Around the Corner and, more recently, as You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Chichester’s new stage production will star Joe McFadden as Joe and Dianne Pilkington as Amalia. It’s designed by Anthony Ward.

It’s followed, from 30 June to 16 July 2011 (previews from 23 June), by a revival of Caryl Churchill’s seminal work Top Girls, directed by Max Stafford-Clark (who directed the play’s premiere at the Royal Court in 1982) in a co-production with his Out of Joint theatre company. A provocative study of powerful women in Thatcher’s Britain, Top Girls examines the compromises women make in the quest for success and what happens to those left behind.

Ian McKellen will reunite with director Sean Mathias, who directed him to Whatsonstage.com Award-winning effect in Waiting for Godot in 2009, to play an Italian crime boss named Don Antonio in The Syndicate, running from 2 to 20 August 2011 (previews from 21 July). Mike Poulton’s new version of Eduardo De Filippo’s 1960 dark comedy Il Sindaco Del Riono Sanità is set in 1960s Naples and also stars Michael Pennington. It marks McKellen’s first appearance at Chichester in decades.

The final offering in the Minerva will be a double bill of Angus Jackson’s revival of The Browning Version and David Hare’s new one-act response to it, South Downs, running in rep from 14 September to 8 October (previews from 2 September). In the former one-act play, classics master Andrew Crocker-Harris, who’s about to retire after years of self-loathing and buttoned-up disappointment, is touched by a small gesture of unexpected kindness from a pupil. Hare’s play, centring on a lonely boy at a public school, has been written at the invitation of the Rattigan Trust and is directed by Jeremy Herrin.

Also presented in the Minerva as part of the centenary celebrations will be a series of rehearsed readings of lesser-known Rattigan plays (including First Episode, Adventure Story and Harlequinade and a one-off presentation on 7 August, directed by and featuring Penelope Keith, of In Praise of Rattigan, Jack Tinker and Martin Tickner’s Rattigan “entertainment”.


In the Festival Theatre

In the 1,206-seat main house, the 2011 season opens with a revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 modern classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, directed by Trevor Nunn. It runs at Chichester from 31 May to 11 June (previews from 20 May) and has already been tipped for the West End as part of Nunn’s year-long residence at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Stoppard’s famous play retells Hamlet through the eyes of two its minor characters.

The Festival programme continues, from 5 July to 10 September 2011 (previews from 27 June), with artistic director Jonathan Church’s own new production of Singin’ in the Rain, the stage musical based on the famous 1952 MGM film, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Former Royal Ballet principal Adam Cooper returns to the Kelly role of Don Lockwood, which he previously played in Leicester and at Sadler’s Wells in a 2004 revival he also choreographed. He’s joined by Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen (nominated in the 2011 Whatsonstage.com Awards for Passion). Church’s production is designed by Simon Higlett and choreographed by Andrew Wright.

Singin’ in the Rain will play in rep with Philip Franks’ production of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, running from 25 July to 3 September 2011 (previews from 13 July). The 1952 play centres on Hester Collyer, torn between her passionate love for a younger man and the security of a safe marriage. Considered one of the most challenging roles for an actress, Hester has been played in recent productions by Harriet Walter, Penelope Wilton and, in the West End in 2008, Greta Scacchi. Chichester casting has not yet been announced.

The Deep Blue Sea is partnered, as part of the Rattigan “festival within a festival”, with Rattigan’s Nijinksy, which is written by Nicholas Wright based on a 1974 television script Rattigan wrote for the BBC, centring on Ballet Russes impresario Diaghilev and renowned dancer Nijinsky, that was later mysteriously withdrawn and never produced or published (as such, Chichester are billing this staging as “two world premieres in one”). Wright imagines why the piece disappeared, making the dying Rattigan a character who meets Nijinksy’s widow to fight over his play. Rattigan’s Nijinksy runs from 14 September to 8 October 2011 (previews from 2 September).

The season culminates with the long-anticipated production of Stephen Sondheim’s gruesome 1979 Broadway classic Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Imelda Staunton as his pie-making partner in crime Mrs Lovett. It’s directed by Jonathan Kent and has a Chichester stint from 6 October to 5 November 2011 (previews from 24 September). The production is designed by Anthony Ward, with choreography by Denni Sayers, lighting by Mark Henderson, musical direction by Nicholas Skilbeck and sound by Paul Groothuis.

Sondheim’s musical, which has a book by Hugh Wheeler, was last seen in London in 2005 in John Doyle’s actor-musician Watermill Theatre revival, which had an extended season at Trafalgar Studios and then at the New Ambassadors, won two Whatsonstage.com Awards and later transferred to Broadway where it won two Tony Awards.

Sweeney Todd will mark Ball’s Chichester debut, though he has co-produced the current West End transfer of Love Story, which premiered as part of last summer’s Chichester season. He was most recently seen on stage in the West End in drag as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, for which he won both the Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Awards for Best Actor in a Musical in 2008. He reprises the role on tour this spring.