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Kendal Stars as Late Simon Gray in CFT Premiere

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Chichester Festival will mount an extended season this summer, running at least one month and two shows more than usual. Early productions – featuring a starry line-up including Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendal and Michael Pennington – have been unveiled today ahead of a full season announcement next month.

The season opens, a month earlier than normal, with the premiere of The Last Cigarette (See The Goss, 5 Nov 2008), a dramatisation of the late playwright Simon Gray’s acclaimed Smoking Diaries in which Felicity Kendal – seen in the West End last year in The Vortex - Nicholas Le Prevost and Jasper Britton will all play Gray, giving voice to his memoirs and thoughts as he is “forced to look his own mortality in the eye”.

The author of more than 30 plays including Quartermaine’s Terms, Otherwise Engaged and Butley, lifelong smoker Gray passed away on 6 August 2008 after a battle with cancer (See News, 8 Aug 2008). Gray himself (with Hugh Whitemore) adapted The Last Cigarette, which is billed as a “dark comedy”. The premiere production is directed by former National Theatre artistic director Richard Eyre and designed by Rob Howell, with lighting by John Driscoll. It runs from 11 March to 11 April 2009.

The Chichester programme continues with a new production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, starring Diana Rigg, seen at Chichester last year in The Cherry Orchard. Rigg plays bohemian actress Judith Bliss, who lives in a rural haven with her writer husband (played by Simon Williams) and their precocious son and daughter. When various guests are invited down for the weekend, they become pawns in the family’s emotional, madcap games.

First performed in 1925, the comedy of manners was inspired by the eccentric American actress Laurette Taylor, and her husband Hartley, and written by Coward in just three days. In the most recent West End revival of Hay Fever, directed by Peter Hall at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2006, Judi Dench starred as Judith Bliss. The new Chichester production, directed by Nikolai Foster and designed by Robert Jones, runs in the Festival Theatre from 9 April to 2 May 2009.

Back in the Minerva Theatre from 28 April to 16 May 2009, last year’s Ronald Harwood double bill - 1995’s Taking Sides and the new play Collaboration - will return to the Festival prior to a planned West End transfer (See The Goss, 12 Nov 2008). Though two standalone stories, the plays were written as companion pieces, both exploring the fine line between collaboration and betrayal during the Second World War.

Both are directed by Philip Franks and star Michael Pennington as, respectively, conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and composer Richard Strauss, two men wrangling with Nazism. The cross-cast company reprising their performances also features David Horovitch and Isla Blair.

Harwood’s best-known play, 1980’s The Dresser, was revived at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 2005, but his last new play in the West End was Mahler’s Conversion, which starred Antony Sher at the Vaudeville in 2001. Last year, his play An English Tragedy, also set during the Second World War, premiered at Watford Palace (See News, 16 Jan 2008).

Though the full programme is still being finalised the 2009 Chichester Festival Season is expected to run through to the end of September and to comprise up to a dozen productions. Public booking for these first four productions will open on 30 January 2009.

- by Terri Paddock


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