Departing Chichester Festival duo Jonathan Church and Alan Finch will be the hardest act to follow

Executive Director of the Festival Theatre,  Alan Finch and Artistic Director, Jonathan Church outside the newley refurbished building.Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140746-1 SUS-150331-101234003
Executive Director of the Festival Theatre, Alan Finch and Artistic Director, Jonathan Church outside the newley refurbished building.Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140746-1 SUS-150331-101234003

YOU are always supposed to leave the audience wanting more. Jonathan Church and Alan Finch will do precisely that when they relinquish their posts next year after 11 remarkable seasons.

Their recent sets of predecessors at the venue left under a cloud, with the very future of the theatre at stake. Mr Church and Mr Finch seem certain to go out on a high – and you can’t help but admire their sense of timing. Audience figures were in virtual freefall when they took over at the end of an era which had alienated so many.

Obscure co-productions and bizarre stagings had shifted the CFT away from the city’s centre-stage.

Mr Finch and Mr Church were always diplomatic about the previous regime, but there was no doubting the theatre was in a mess.

Fast-forward a decade, and the theatre’s fortunes couldn’t be more different.

Having quickly doubled their summer audiences, Mr Finch and Mr Church took a look at the building itself and determined, as its 50th anniversary approached, it was uncomfortably past its sell-by date and tryingly inadequate for their 
fast-rising artistic ambitions.

In response, the duo secured £22m to fund a near total overhaul of the venue.

To make sure it didn’t lose momentum, they erected a temporary tent for the summer season before last.

When the theatre reopened – a perfect combination of the new and the vastly-more comfortable – the audiences flocked, making 2014 the venue’s best ever and the perfect platform for 2015.

For the first time this year, on the opening day of booking, the venue took more than a million pounds.

Now, as they contemplate their own personal futures, they leave behind them a superb tale of success.

They have made the theatre accessible and welcoming once again, they have shown the surest of instincts and they have more than restored the CFT’s standing. They have restored its future.

Phil Hewitt