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Chichester Festival announces 50th anniversary season

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Chichester Festival Theatre will celebrate its 50th birthday this year with an anniversary season that “echoes and acknowledges the past while also looking to the future”.

Uncle Vanya was part of Chichester’s very first season in 1962 and became a key part of its history and is revisited during Festival 2012 from 30 March to 28 April in the Minerva Theatre, directed by Jeremy Herrin and starring Roger Allam, Dervla Kirwan and Timothy West.

Congreve’s The Way of the World in 1984 was another key production for the venue; the play will feature again this year, running from 13 April to 5 May in the Festival Theatre. Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, the cast will include Penelope Keith as Lady Wishfort.

Many of the actors and directors who have been such an important part of Chichester’s recent success return during Festival 2012. Directors Philip Franks, Angus Jackson, Jonathan Kent and Trevor Nunn and actors Roger Allam, Henry Goodman and Michael Pennington all continue their close relationship with Chichester.

Multi award-winner Derek Jacobi will also feature during Festival 2012 in a production of Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (6 July-25 August, Festival Theatre).

Chichester will continue its reputation for major musical revivals with a new staging of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Stephen Mear (18 June-1 September, Festival Theatre).

Alongside these links to Chichester’s history, the commitment to developing new work remains equally important and Festival 2012 will feature two world premieres; A Marvellous Year for Plums by Hugh Whitemore and Canvas by Michael Wynne, as well as Surprises, a brand new play by Alan Ayckbourn, alongside his much-loved classic Absurd Person Singular.

New work will also feature in Theatre on the Fly, a temporary third auditorium which will be built on Oaklands Park, echoing the days of The Tent, the 1983 predecessor to the Minerva Theatre.

In the Festival Theatre

  • From 20 April to 5 May (previews from 13 April), Rachel Kavanaugh directs a revival of Congreve’s restoration comedy The Way of the World, which centres on Mirabell, who sets out to marry Millamant but he must first outwit her aunt, the vain and fanciful Lady Wishfort (played by Penelope Keith, whose previous appearances at Chichester include The Importance of Being Earnest and The Rivals).

  • Hugh Whitemore’s A Marvellous Year for Plums receives its world premiere from 17 May to 2 June (previews from 11 May). Directed by Philip Franks (The Deep Blue Sea, Rattigan’s Nijinsky), the play is billed as a “sophisticated political thriller” that examines the 1956 Suez Crisis.

  • From 27 June to 1 September (previews from 18 June), Trevor Nunn and Stephen Mear will collaborate on a new production of Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter’s musical reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Nunn’s many previous musical theatre credits include My Fair Lady, Les Misérables, Starlight Express and Cats, while Mear’s Chichester choreography credits include The Music Man and Funny Girl.

  • Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House will be revived by director Richard Clifford from 12 July to 25 August (previews from 6 July), starring Olivier Award-winner Derek Jacobi as Captain Shotover, an eccentric who hosts a house party on the eve of World War 1.

  • From 14 to 29 September (previews from 7 September), Kim Cattrall will revisit the role of Cleopatra (which she played in Liverpool in 2010) in Janet Suzman’s production of Antony and Cleopatra. Cattrall, whose recent stage credits include Private Lives in the West End, will star alongside veteran Shakespearean actor Michael Pennington.

    In the Minerva Theatre

  • Festival 2012 opens in the Minerva with a new production of a play that marked a “turning point” for the Festival Theatre during its inaugural season in 1962, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Running from 5 to 28 April (previews from 30 March), it’s directed by Jeremy Herrin (South Downs) and stars Roger Allam, Dervla Kirwan and Timothy West. The production will use the translation by Michael Frayn.

  • Michael Wynne, author of the Olivier Award-winning The Priory, will present his new play Canvas from 24 May to 16 June (previews from 18 May). The play centres on three couples who attempt to get away from it all on a glamorous camping holiday but find that their rural idyll isn’t so perfect after all. CFT associate director Angus Jackson directs.

  • Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui will be revived from 11 to 28 July (previews from 29 June) by CFT artistic director Jonathan Church. Written in 1941 just before the exiled Brecht arrived in the USA, this violent, epic parable of the rise of Hitler is one of his most accessible plays. Henry Goodman will play the title role.

  • From 13 August to 8 September (previews from 8 August), Alan Ayckbourn’s new play Surprises will premiere in rep with a revival of his 1972 comedy Absurd Person Singular. The new work, his 76th play, is billed as a comedy “set in the future while its characters hearts remain tied to the past”. Both productions will be directed by the playwright.

  • Rounding off the season in the Minerva will be a new revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, starring Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens as divorcees Amanda and Elyot, who meet while on honeymoon with their new spouses. Directed by Jonathan Kent, the production runs from 28 September to 27 October 2012 (previews from 21 September).
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