Our story

World-class theatre should be seen by the world

Our mission is to bring together people from all walks of life, providing a space where experiences are created and shared, and where everyone can find their place. Placing creativity at the heart of everything we do, put simply our aim is to inspire and delight everyone we meet.

Historic CFT brochures are laid on a surface, with one in the centre labelled '1962'. An old photo of a large crowd of people behind a table can be seen at the top of the frame.

Our history: long story short...

In 1962 local optician Leslie Evershed-Martin founded Britain’s first modern thrust stage theatre, which was effectively ‘crowdfunded’ by local individuals and businesses. A story that has the makings of a great Netflix drama.

Since then, we've spent the last six decades making work that entertains, provokes thought and occasionally pushes boundaries. But always with the core belief that world-class theatre should be seen by the world.

(Here's the longer story...)

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, this theatre 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 our first artistic director Laurence Olivier, CFT formed the basis for his newly established National Theatre company.

The Festival Theatre seats up to 1300 people. Its bold thrust stage design makes it one of England’s most striking playhouses – equally suited to epic drama and musicals. Our studio theatre, the Minerva (opened in 1989 and seating around 300), is particularly noted for premieres of new work alongside intimate revivals.

In 2014 we completed a major restoration project, upgrading the Grade II* listed Festival Theatre and matching our world-class artistic reputation with world-class facilities and spaces.

Over the past six decades, countless productions originated here in Chichester have transferred to the West End or toured nationally and internationally, from musicals to significant new plays and classic revivals. In 2022 we celebrated our 60th anniversary, and took Daniel Evans's Festival 2021 production of South Pacific on a major UK and Ireland tour, including a stint at Sadler's Wells. In 2023-24, Susan Stroman’s production of Crazy for You completed a West End run at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, and Steven Moffat’s The Unfriend transferred first to the Criterion Theatre, and then returned for a second run at Wyndham's Theatre.

Other recent London transfers include Tony Kushner & Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, Or Change (with Sharon D. Clarke also recreating her Olivier Award-winning and Grammy-nominated performance in New York); Singin’ in the Rain at Sadler’s Wells and on international tour; Ian McKellen in King Lear (also broadcast to cinemas internationally by NT Live); James Graham’s Quiz which embarked on a new UK tour in 2023; and Laura Wade’s The Watsons, adapted from the unfinished novel by Jane Austen, at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Our co-production with the National Theatre of Alecky Blythe’s Our Generation is now available to stream on NT At Home.

You might also have seen our West End transfers of Half A Sixpence, Young Chekhov (National Theatre), Running Wild, Guys and Dolls, Taken at Midnight, Gypsy, Stevie, Private Lives and Sweeney Todd.

If you're hooked and want to know more about the history of CFT, you can visit our archive at the West Sussex Record Office or drop us a line at [email protected].