Our Story

A scene from Oklahoma! at Chichester Festival Theatre

When Chichester Festival Theatre opened in 1962, it was Britain’s first modern thrust stage theatre. The brainchild of a local optician, Leslie Evershed-Martin, it was effectively ‘crowdfunded’ by local individuals and businesses: a theatre built by the community for the community, an ethos which still stands today. Between 1962-65, under its first artistic director Laurence Olivier, CFT provided the nucleus for the newly established National Theatre company.

A major project to restore and upgrade the Grade II* listed Festival Theatre was completed in 2014, and the Theatre now proudly matches its world-class artistic reputation with world-class facilities and spaces. You can view some key moments from our history in our Digital Diorama, curated to celebrate our 60th anniversary.

Over the past six decades, myriad productions originated at Chichester have transferred to the West End or toured nationally and internationally, from musicals to significant new plays and classic revivals. In 2022, when CFT celebrates its 60th anniversary, Daniel Evans's Festival 2021 production of South Pacific will open at Manchester Opera House followed by a run at Sadler's Wells, and then a UK and Ireland tour. Jonathan Church's production of Singin' in the Rain will also be on UK tour and in Toronto.

Recent London transfers from Chichester include Tony Kushner & Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, Or Change at Hampstead and the Playhouse Theatre (with Sharon D. Clarke also recreating her Olivier Award-winning performance as Caroline at New York’s Roundabout Theatre); Singin’ in the Rain at Sadler’s Wells; Ian McKellen in King Lear (also broadcast to cinemas internationally by NT Live) and James Graham’s new play Quiz, both at the Noël Coward Theatre; and Laura Wade’s new play The Watsons, adapted from the unfinished novel by Jane Austen, at the Menier Chocolate Factory (a further West End run was derailed by the pandemic).

Other Chichester productions seen in the West End in recent years include Half A Sixpence (Noël Coward Theatre), Young Chekhov (National Theatre), Running Wild (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre), Taken at Midnight (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Gypsy (Savoy Theatre), Stevie (Hampstead Theatre), Private Lives (Gielgud Theatre) and Sweeney Todd (Adelphi Theatre).

Our Values

We aim to ensure rich opportunities for all

Find out more

Chichester Festival Theatre's archive is held and administered by the West Sussex Record Office. You may also direct any initial enquiries to

Sculpture at Chichester Festival Theatre