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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.

Over the past five decades, myriad productions originated at Chichester – whether in the 1300-seat Festival Theatre or the 300-seat Minerva Theatre – have transferred to the West End or toured nationally and internationally, from musicals to significant new plays and classic revivals.

During 2020 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) productions originating from Chichester were due be seen across the globe. Laura Wade’s new play The Watsons, adapted from the unfinished novel by Jane Austen, was scheduled to run at London's Harold Pinter Theatre; Caroline, Or Change was due to transfer to New York’s Roundabout Theatre, with Sharon D. Clarke recreating her Olivier Award-winning performance as Caroline (now scheduled for autumn 2021). An autumn UK tour of Quiz was planned as well as Singin’ in the Rain at Sadler’s Wells and in Japan.  

Recent transfers from Chichester include Caroline, Or Change (London’s Hampstead Theatre and the West End’s Playhouse Theatre 2018/19); Ian McKellen in King Lear, which transferred to the West End in 2018 and was broadcast to cinemas internationally by NT Live; and Daniel Evans’s world premiere production of James Graham's Quiz, which also transferred to the West End in 2018. 

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).


Chichester Festival Theatre's archive is held and administered by the West Sussex Record Office, which is currently closed due to the pandemic. Please direct any urgent enquiries to marketing@cft.org.uk.


Sculpture at Chichester Festival Theatre