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Sandraseahorse

Chichester Festival Theatre at Fifty by Kate Mosse

I'll admit that when I learnt that the book celebrating 50 years of this theatre was to be written by Kate Mosse, I groaned.  I am not a fan of her blockbuster "Labyrinth", which became a best-seller after being selected as a Richard and Judy book choice; to me it seemed to be riding on the coat-tails of Dan Brown.  As she lives in Chichester, she seems to turn up at every local event.  I was starting to find her as ubiquitous and over-rated as her namesake without an "e" on the end.

However, after hearing her talk at a couple of Chichester Festival Events I felt that I had misjudged her and now, having read her book, I'm prepared to admit that I was wrong.  Two things stand out clearly from the book; her deep connection with the theatre and her genuine love for it.  Her father, Richard Mosse, an actor turned lawyer, was Company Secretary to the theatre's board, and the book is dedicated to him.  As a school girl, Mosse played in an orchestra on the theatre's stage, as a student she sold ice creams as an usher, and from 1998-2001, she was Administrative Director of CFT.  Her children were involved with the CFT Youth Theatre.

She describes the book in its foreward as "a love letter" to CFT. It is a beautiful publication with wonderful photos from many productions and it is fun spotting actors who became famous later in other roles: e.g Ben Kingsley as First Murderer in a 1966 version of "Macbeth." and a wonderful shot of Stephen Fry in drag as Tempest in "Forty Years On", his first professional part.  I didn't know that Tony Robinson, of "Time Team" and "Blackadder" fame was involved with the theatre for several years, leading the Venture section, which turned into a forerunner of both the Youth Theatre and the Minerva.

The book goes through every year in chronological order describing each production with, obviously, more details given to outstanding hits or those with a turbulent history. It also outlines the history of its management, which at times as been fraught and on one occasion, just hours away from bankruptcy.  

For those interested in theatrical gossip, there are some great anecdotes.  Here are just a few:

In the early days when Olivier was in charge, there was a Gala performance attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  Two loos were specially refurbished for their use and kept locked so that no-one else could use them.  When, during the interval, the royal couple asked to use the facilities, the organisers couldn't locate the keys and Oliver had to used his improvisation techniques to keep them entertained until someone could find them.

Most of the anecdotes about Rex Harrison are unprintable, according to Kate Mosse, but one that makes it into the book is that staff always knew when he had arrived as there was a tremendous noise from the car park.  Harrison had a huge American car and he had problems finding a parking space big enough for it.  He would attempt to ram it into a space by simply shoving it in reverse and scrapping it against adjoining cars.

If Rex Harrison was generally loathed, Donald Sinden was universally loved.  The stage crew enjoyed playing practical jokes in an attempt to make him corpse on stage.   During a run of "The Scarlet Pimpernel", Sinden had to lift a trapdoor in the stage and look down into it.  The staff would stand underneath wearing silly hats and pulling faces.  On the last night, they wheeled in from outside some of the tables with umbrellas and were seated sipping cocktails when Sinden peered down.

During a run of Terra Nova in 1980 - a drama about Scott's last expedition to the Antarctic - a nightwatchman complained to the management that there were "funny goings-on in the dressing room."  He was concerened about the number of tubes of KY jelly found around.  He was relieved when the director explained that the actors smeared the jelly on their faces to resemble perspiration.

Lauren Bacall, during her appearance in "The Visit" in 1995, had a furious row with the management because they wouldn't get the Chichester Cathedral bells to stop ringing.  In diva mode, she didn't think the fact that the bells had been ringing out for the past 1,000 years a good enough reason for them to disturb her Sunday lie-in.

At £28 the book isn't cheap, but it is a wonderful souvenir for anyone interested in theatrical history.
Mikeharvey

I must get it!
TheRejectAmidHair

I look forward to my first play at the Chichester Festival theatre this September.
Joe McWilliams

Glad to hear Kate Mosse has produced something worth reading. Labyrinth is rubbish.
Green Jay

Re: Chichester Festival Theatre at Fifty by Kate Mosse

Sandraseahorse wrote:
In the early days when Olivier was in charge, there was a Gala performance attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  Two loos were specially refurbished for their use and kept locked so that no-one else could use them.  When, during the interval, the royal couple asked to use the facilities, the organisers couldn't locate the keys and Oliver had to used his improvisation techniques to keep them entertained until someone could find them.



Organisers seem obsessed with this particular aspect of grandees' visits, or maybe they are given firm instructions beforehand. I wish the grand visitors could all get a dose of real life (that is not a  euphemism  Very Happy ) instead !! they must think the standard of loos everywhere is exceptionally high - or no, that it's all just normality for them. Now I'm getting obsessed too.

I enjoyed all those anecdotes, thank you. And I always like spotting well-known actors in their early days.
Mikeharvey

I have just ordered a copy of the Kate Mosse book.
I was present at a performance at Chichester when the Queen was present. We all had to stand up when she came in. The production was Olivier in OTHELLO with Maggie Smith as Desdemona and Frank Finlay as Iago. I can't remember who played Emilia.
I think HM happened to be in Sussex that week because she was there for the races at Goodwood and was staying at Arundel with the Duke of Norfolk.
Sandraseahorse

Mikeharvey wrote:
The production was Olivier in OTHELLO with Maggie Smith as Desdemona and Frank Finlay as Iago. I can't remember who played Emilia.


When Othello was revived at Chichester in 1975 with Topol and Hannah Gordon in the leads, Patricia Routledge played Emilia.  Apparently, she consulted a doctor as to whether it was medically possible for Emilia to give such a long speech after she was stabbed and was told that with a stab to the kidneys it would be possible.

I hope you enjoy the book, Mike.
Mikeharvey

The Kate Mosse book took ages to arrive - yesterday. I had to phone and write to Chichester and it prodded them into sending it. I'm enjoying it very much. Lots of lovely pictures bringing back happy memories.
Sandraseahorse

I'm sorry that you had problems obtaining the book, Mike.  It is great fun though, isn't it?  I especially enjoyed  spotting the then unknowns in minor roles.
Mikeharvey

I received an apologetic letter from the House Manager at Chichester apologising for a hiccup in the system.  It was worth writing to receive the letter if only for the royal purple paper it's written on.  
So many fabulous pictures. I saw TERRA NOVA and that one with Rex Harrison and VIVAT VIVAT REGINA and THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN and Ingrid Bergman. And LOOK AFTER LULU......and.....
Green Jay

Goodness, I didn't know that the Queen ever went to Shakespeare. Now, Goodwood I can imagine...

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