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Chichester Festival 2018 preview
By Jarlath O'Connell
Three West End transfers from your first year as Artistic Director is not a bad innings, but that's what Daniel Evans has achieved, and it is notable that it is such diverse lot – there's James Graham's Quiz about the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire "coughing Major" scandal which is already a hit, Ian McKellen's King Lear which opens in London in July to be followed in November by Sharon D Clarke lighting up Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori's musical Caroline or Change.
Multi Olivier Award winning actor/director Evans made a big splash at Sheffield Theatres when he first made the leap to artistic director and for his second season installed in Chichester he has judiciously chosen a mix of revivals of classics, contemporary classics, musicals old and new, new writing and a family show. He also has attracted a diverse bunch of directors to the south coast, with debuts by Natalie Abrahami, Michael Blakemore, Tinuke Craig, Sean Foley, Kate Hewitt and Dale Rooks.
One of the joys of English summer, the Chichester Festival, founded by Laurence Olivier, has an undeserved reputation for being rather middle aged. It's dismissed as lots of staid revivals and star vehicles but, as so often with such cursory dismissals, this bears no relation to the facts. Of course it caters for an older and loyal audience (why shouldn't it) but the breadth of work this year illustrates Chichester's determination to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible.
There will be new plays by three of the UK's leading female writers. Charlotte Jones (of Humble Boy fame) premieres The Meeting and Laura Wade of Posh fame brings The Watsons which, intriguingly, is based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel. The season's new family show has great credentials too, as Bryony Lavery adapts David Walliams's children's story The Midnight Gang with music and lyrics by the talented jazz artist Joe Stilgoe.
Mike Bartlett's 2009 ménage-a-trois play Cock had far too brief run at the Royal Court before heading for New York. Now a wider audience will have a chance to assess an early work by the writer of the Tony nominated King Charles III and the creator of tv's Doctor Foster.
Evans will helm the two big musicals of the season and they're much anticipated. Caroline Quentin will star in a major revival of the cockney charmer Me and My Girl which wowed London and New York in the 80s and Sussex audiences will be given the opportunity to see Richard Taylors award winning new musical Flowers for Mrs Harris. Evans premiered it to huge acclaim at Sheffield and audiences will get a chance to see the great Clare Burt recreate her award winning performance in this tender WWII drama based on the Paul Gallico novella. Joanna Riding and Gary Wilmot fill out a stellar cast.
OPENING NIGHTS FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON:
Me and My Girl, Festival Theatre Monday 9 July, 7.00pm
The Meeting, Minerva Theatre Thursday 19 July, 7.00pm
Copenhagen, Minerva Theatre Wednesday 22 August, 7.00pm
Flowers for Mrs Harris, Festival Theatre Friday 14 September, 7.00pm
Cock, Minerva Theatre Thursday 4 October, 7.00pm
The Midnight Gang, Festival Theatre Monday 22 October, 7.00pm
The Watsons, Minerva Theatre Thursday 8 November, 7.00pm