Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville returns to the Chichester Festival Theatre stage for the first time in 20 years as one of the stars of the 2016 summer season announced today (Feb 18).
Bonneville, who played Robert Crawley in 52 episodes of Downton from 2010-2015, will star in the season opener in the main house, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (April 22-May 21).
The season, which will be the 11th and final summer in charge for artistic and executive directors Jonathan Church and Alan Finch, continues with Ross by Terence Rattigan (June 3-25), starring Joseph Fiennes and directed by former RSC boss and Chichester schoolboy Adrian Noble.
The big summer musical will be a heavily-reworked Half a Sixpence, based on the novel Kipps by H G Wells but revisited by Downton creator Julian Fellowes with new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Completing the main-house season is a Royal Shakespeare Company double bill: Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing or Love’s Labour’s Won, (September 24-October 29, directed by Christopher Luscombe).
Plays in the Minerva will include the world premiere of Fracked!, a new play by Alistair Beaton. Running from July 7- August 6, it will be directed by Richard Wilson and star James Bolam and Anne Reid.
Bonneville, whose film credits have included The Monuments Men opposite George Clooney and Paddington opposite a computer-generated bear, said: “I’m very excited to be returning to my local theatre this spring.
“I last performed at Chichester in 1996 in Ronald Harwood’s The Handyman, which starred the great Frank Finlay, who sadly died only a few weeks ago.
“Jonathan Church and I have been talking for ages about finding a project, so I was delighted when he suggested I have a look at Ibsen’s Enemy of The People, a play I had never read.
I couldn’t put it down.
“It’s the gripping story of a whistleblower whose confidence that he is doing the right thing comes at a price. In Christopher Hampton’s brilliant translation it feels utterly contemporary in its treatment of what happens when public opinion turns on one of its own.”
Priority booking for Friends of Chichester Festival Theatre opens: February 22 (online and booking forms only); February 29 (phone and in person). Public booking opens: March 2 (online only); March 7 (phone and in person). Box office: 01243 781312 and cft.org.uk.
Downton Abbey and Paddington star Hugh Bonneville makes his long-awaited return to the stage in Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2016 summer season, which has been announced today.
Bonneville, known to millions as Downton’s Lord Grantham, will lead the cast in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, the opening production in the 11th and final season in charge for artistic and executive directors Jonathan Church and Alan Finch who step down this autumn.
Jonathan Church said: “It’s the result of a lovely long conversation we have been having with Hugh. We have been talking about having the right piece for him. In the end, it was a combination of finding the right piece, the right director (Howard Davies) and Downton finishing! Hugh was very passionate about wanting to do something at his local theatre, and it all rather beautifully came together. He is such a wonderful stage actor, but I don’t think he has been on the stage for ten or 12 years. An Enemy of the People (April 22-May 21) is a big political play and is also just right as a celebration of the scale of our theatre. The story is the basis of the plot of Jaws. It’s about a man telling the community that the local baths are polluted and there is danger and everyone is ostracising him. It’s exactly the same tense drama! One of the key scenes is a massive public meeting. As well as a big cast, we will have something like 40 members of the community involved. There is a huge public element. The audience will be part of that public meeting anyway.”
The next production will be Ross by Terence Rattigan, running from June 3-25, directed by former RSC boss and former Chichester schoolboy Adrian Noble and starring Joseph Fiennes.
“We have been hoping to tempt Joseph back to Chichester since that extraordinary Cyrano he did for us, and because it is our last season, Joe wanted to come to say thank you to us and thank you to the audience. It was also a question of finding another big epic piece for him to play, which we have found in Ross. Ross and An Enemy of the People have been on my hit list for years. They are wonderful pieces for that great space we have got.
“I felt Ross is one of the great underdone Rattigans. It’s all based on Lawrence of Arabia. We have all got used to Peter O’Toole charging on his white horse across the desert, but the truth was that T E Lawrence was a book-reader. He was not a natural leader of men. When he comes back rather shaken and broken from his exploits in Arabia, he hid under the pseudonym Ross. It’s a look at a man that has to discover what it takes to become a leader.”
The third play in the season is a heavily-reworked Half a Sixpence, based on the novel Kipps by H G Wells and the original musical play by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, but with book by Downton creator Julian Fellowes and new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh, it will run from July 14-September 3, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh with a cast featuring Bryan Dick.
Completing the main-house season is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s double bill of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing or Love’s Labour’s Won, (Sept 24-Octo29, directed by Christopher Luscombe).
Inevitably, the fact that this is his final year at the CFT has shaped Jonathan Church’s final season.
“There is a fair amount of new work, a new musical, two new plays and a heavily-revised version of Half a Sixpence. All of these were projects in development, and because it was the last season, we have had to hot-house some of them to make sure we had them here. I think this is the most new work we have had in a season, which is great.”
Much of that new work will be in the Minerva where the season launches with a new musical, the world premiere of Travels With My Aunt, based on the novel by Graham Greene, with book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and music by George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe.
Running from April 18- June 4, it will be directed by Christopher Luscombe, with a cast featuring Patricia Hodge and Steven Pacey.
Next up will be the second play from Mark Hayhurst whose Taken At Midnight was one of the big hits of the season before last. Taken At Midnight focused on the tragic fate of an imprisoned lawyer in Nazi Germany. Hayhurst’s second play First Light, again a world premiere, shifts the focus to the First World War (June 9-July 2, directed by Jonathan Munby).
“We know a number of young men were executed for desertion during World War One in France. That happened even if they had been brave the week before. If you deserted, you were shot… The play looks at the story of two young men, based on a mixture of fact and fiction…
“Not everybody has got a second play in them, but I think this play of Mark’s is absolutely spine-tingling.”
Topically, the season continues with the world premiere of Fracked!, a new play by Alistair Beaton whose previous CFT credits include working on Arturo Ui with Jonathan.
“Alistair is a wonderful comedian and satirist,” Jonathan said.
Running from July 7- August 6, it will be directed by Richard Wilson and star James Bolam and Anne Reid.
As Jonathan says: “James is a well-known anti-fracking activist in the area!
“It’s about a woman played by Anne that becomes an accidental heroine. She causes a stir at a local meeting, and she ends up on YouTube. She ends up getting thousands of hits. It’s set in a place not unlike Chichester… deliberately not unlike Chichester!”
The season continues with John Galsworthy’s Strife (August 12-September 10, Minerva Theatre; director Bertie Carvel; cast features Julian Glover): “It’s very much in the vein of For Services Rendered. We are always interested in finding those great period plays that are not often revived. Bertie is better known as an actor, but he brought me this incredible play from the era of Bernard Shaw, set in a tin mine which is on strike and all that means for the company and for the workers and their families. It’s a really wonderful piece of drama.”
The Minerva season concludes with the National Theatre production of This House by James Graham, running from September 24-October 29 and directed by Jeremy Herrin.
Jonathan said he saw his last season as a chance to work again with some of the people who have been key to his time in Chichester.including directors Herrin, Davies and Kavanaugh. For once, Jonathan won’t however be directing himself. He is starting to split his time between Chichester and his next job in Sydney.
n Priority booking for Friends of Chichester Festival Theatre opens: February 22 (online and booking forms only); February 29 (phone and in person). Public booking opens: March 2 (online only); March 7 (phone and in person). Box office: 01243 781312 and cft.org.uk.
nThis year’s Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Christmas production in the main house will be Peter Pan.