THE stage is set for a new era at Chichester Festival Theatre, which finally re-opened after its £22m refurbishment and rebuild.
The main-house opened its doors on Saturday for the first preview of its Amadeus production, to the delight of patrons who were wowed by the transformed auditorium, and its new cafes and bar areas.
There has also been a huge transformation back-stage, with new dressing rooms and other state-of-the-art facilities.
The re-opening coincides with an announcement from the Arts Council that the CFT will receive £5.2m in funding for the next three years, 2015-17.
It represents a standstill on current funding levels, but CFT executive director Alan Finch (pictured on the front page with CFT artistic director Jonathan Church) points out that it comes at a time when other arts organisations are seeing a cut in their funding: “In those terms, we are thrilled to be selected.
“We were always hoping their £12m investment into our capital project (ie the rebuild) meant we would not be cut, but we were certainly not resting on our laurels. We are thrilled. It sets the roadmap for the next few years.”
In the meantime, with Amadeus up and running as the first production in the new venue, actors are enjoying their new-look surroundings.
Rupert Everett, who plays Salieri in the show, said: “I’m really thrilled to return to the Festival Theatre following its major redevelopment.
“It’s a great honour for me personally to take part in this season, particularly as I’ll be the first actor to step on to the new stage.
“Having appeared at Chichester in Pygmalion, I know what a special space it is and how amazingly supportive and knowledgeable Chichester audiences are.”
Appropriately, however, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre members were among the first on the new stage, reviving their Christmas production of The Witches in a test event.
Sixteen-year-old Stella Swain said: “When I looked out into the vast auditorium, I couldn’t believe it, rows upon rows of seats filled with children’s smiley and concentrated faces, and there I was – about to be among the first actors ever to perform on that stage. I was so excited and nervous at the same time.”
The re-opening of the main house brings to an end to the much-needed project which also saw the CFT open its well-received Theatre in the Park last year to accommodate shows while the refurbishment was taking place. Meanwhile, a new study has confirmed the theatre’s huge economic importance to the city.
The study, by the University of Reading, underlines the extent to which the theatre is a key economic magnate, bringing into the city £17.5m a year. In other words, it will take the CFT just a year-and-a-quarter to generate for Chichester more money than was spent on the entire RENEW project.
Or, if you express it as a return on the £250,000 Chichester District Council gives the theatre each year, it’s an excellent investment, Mr Finch said.
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