News Story

‘One smash hit after another’ is just one review from two decades of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Christmas shows. This year, CFYT celebrate their 20th anniversary of bringing joy to the Festival Theatre stage over Christmas.

To mark this special occasion, we’re looking back at twenty years of spectacular productions. If you look closely at the photos, you might recognise some of the cast for this year’s show, The Jungle Book, or even a member of our staff team!

Production photo from The Wizard of Oz. A group of young performers wearing colourful costumes are huddled together with their arms outstretched, dancing. A young performer sits on his knees at the front of the group. They are all lit in bright pink.
Members of the CFYT company in The Wizard of Oz. Image: Credit unknown 2003

The Wizard of Oz (2003)

Having previously performed in the Minerva Theatre, the Youth Theatre were invited to perform the Christmas show in the Festival Theatre for the first time, under the newly appointed Youth Theatre Director Dale Rooks, who is now Director of Learning, Education and Participation (LEAP):

'I will always remember that first production. It was terribly nerve wracking to be on the big Festival Theatre stage, but for the young people they felt that they were a big part of the family at Chichester Festival Theatre'.

Oliver! (2004)

There was a huge cast of seventy Youth Theatre members in Oliver! and things got even more complicated when the dog playing Bullseye got off his lead and began to run around the audience causing mayhem! Thankfully, he was recovered safe and sound.

Production photo from Oliver. A girl wearing a white top, white and pink poofy skirt and a black top hat bends over a boy in a grey suit with blonde hair, who is down on one knee. She looks down at him and he holds his arms up as though looking at her through a telescope.
Members of the CFYT company in Oliver! Image: Mike Eddowes 2004

Production photo from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. A young boy with his face painted like an animal stands on a wooden table. A girl stands below him with the same face paint and four other young performers walk around them, banging kitchen pots like they are celebrating.
Members of the CFYT company in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Image: Mike Eddowes 2005

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)

Before he began as Artistic Director at CFT, Jonathan Church attended the 2005 CFYT production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. He was so impressed that he made sure the Youth Theatre performed in the Festival Theatre every Christmas during his ten years as Artistic Director.

Peter Pan (2006)

Peter Pan and his shadow were played by twins, Ed and Luke, in CFYT’s 2006 production of Peter Pan. This was one of the first of many CFYT productions where puppetry was used, to depict the children flying to Neverland.

Production photo from Peter Pan. A young boy wears ragged white trousers and a white shirt with brown fur tied over his shoulder. He holds a silver sword and looks slightly off to the left with a serious expression. Other young performers crouch on the stage around him.
Peter in CFYT's Peter Pan. Image: Mike Eddowes 2006

Production photo from James and the Giant Peach. Eight performers stand on a wooden platform with a big peach hanging above them. They are singing and holding their arms out.
Members of the CFYT company in James and the Giant Peach. Image: Mike Eddowes 2007

James and the Giant Peach (2007)

The Youth Theatre was becoming more and more popular, with one family having four siblings involved at one time – three were in James and the Giant Peach in 2007!

A Christmas Carol (2008)

The CFYT Christmas show is supported by professional creative and technical teams. Set designer Simon Higlett has designed twelve Christmas productions since his first, A Christmas Carol in 2008.

Production photo from A Christmas Carol. A boy with dark hair looks up with his hand outstretched and his mouth open like he is speaking or singing. He is wearing a red waistcoat, brown trousers and a long brown jacket. In the background there is another boy with a long black coat and black hat, looking at him, and two other performers who are out of focus.
Members of the CFYT company in A Christmas Carol. Image: Credit unknown 2008

Production photo from The Snow Queen. The stage is lit in blue and covered with smoke. A young male performer crouches and looks down. A female performer stands to the right, looking down at him. She has long silver hair and wears an impressive blue gown.
Members of the CFYT company in The Snow Queen. Image: Mike Eddowes 2009

The Snow Queen (2009)

After playing the title role in Oliver! aged 11, local student Ben Geering played Kay in The Snow Queen. In total, he appeared in seven Christmas shows, and went on to work in the CFT Front of House team. Today, he’s our Head of Operations – if you catch him in the foyer, say hi!

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The Christmas show is also an opportunity for local young people to showcase their talents behind the scenes and gain professional credits to support them with a future career in theatre. Youth Theatre members Joe James (Assistant Director), Holly Mirams (ASM) and Beth Thompson-Gammack (Hair and Make-up) were amongst those making the magic happen in Alice in Wonderland and all went on to flourish in the industry.

Production photo from Alice in Wonderland. A man with brown hair and stubble looks off to the right with an alarmed expression. He is holding a red top hat and wearing a purple coat and checked bow tie. In the background an ensemble of other performers can be seen, looking at him.
Members of the CFYT company in Alice in Wonderland. Image: Credit unknown 2010

Production photo from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. On the left is the head of a lion puppet. On the right, is a girl wearing a blue velvet dress with her dark hair tied up, bowing at the lion.
Members of the CFYT company in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Image: Credit unknown 2011

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2011)

This production was a revival of the hugely successful 2005 version. Helena Berry, who played Lucy in 2005, returned to support Dale as Assistant Director in 2011:

'It was incredibly nostalgic to hear all the same music again and experience the evolution of the Youth Theatre – I knew the future of the CFYT Christmas show was in excellent hands!'

You might know Helena, as she’s now our Heritage & Archive Manager!

There was no CFYT Christmas show in 2012 during our RENEW renovation.

The Witches (2013)

During the Theatre’s RENEW renovation when the Festival Theatre was closed, the Christmas show was relocated to the Minerva Theatre. The intimate space was perfect for the darker themes of The Witches.

Production photo from The Witches. A female performer wears a blonde wig, sunglasses, a sparkly gold top and black gloves. She holds a green snake around her neck. In the background, a young boy climbs a ladder and looks at her inquisitively.
Members of the CFYT company in The Witches. Image: Mike Eddowes 2013

Production photo from The Hundred and One Dalmatians. The stage is full of young performers dressed as Dalmatians with their arms in the air, singing.
CFYT company in The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Image: Mike Eddowes 2014

The Hundred and One Dalmatians (2014)

For the reopening of the Festival Theatre after its 18-month renovation, we knew we had to do something big... So yes, there really were 101 young people on stage as the Dalmatians in this truly memorable production!

A Christmas Carol (2015)

The Christmas show is often a classic story brought to life in a new way by CFYT. A Christmas Carol was a new adaptation of Dickens’ classic story by Bryony Lavery, with music and lyrics by Jason Carr.

Production photo from A Christmas Carol. A huge skeleton puppet looms over the stage, draped with a huge cloak of red and purple rags. Below  stands a man in a long, dark coat, slippers and a white nightcap, looking up at the puppet.
Members of the CFYT company in A Christmas Carol. Image: Credit unknown 2015

Production photo from Peter Pan. A young girl with dark curly hair wearing a grey dressing gown over a puffy skirt with grey slippers is holding onto a bed frame. There is a teddy lying on the bed. She looks to be running around it and is smiling. Behind her is a smaller boy in a navy blue dressing gown who is looking at her and smiling. There are small white houses on the floor around them and a white window, wardrobe, drawers and shelves can be seen in the background.
Members of the CFYT company in Peter Pan. Image: Manuel Harlan 2016

Peter Pan (2016)

14-year-old Finn Elliot played the roles of John and one of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan in 2016. The following year, he hit our screens as a Young Prince Philip in the Netflix series The Crown and has gone on to numerous television roles.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

For this production, one actor operated a striking 10-foot puppet for the character of the Beast. CFYT has worked with award winning puppeteers including Toby Olié, who played Joey in the original cast of War Horse. In 2022, two CFYT alumni won an Olivier Award for Best Actor in Life of Pi, the first time the award has been won by puppeteers.

Production photo from Beauty and the Beast. There is a long table on stage with a velvet tablecloth and an impressive banquet spread. The lighting makes everything appear purple. At one end of the table sits a woman with her back to the camera, wearing a golden blazer with her hair tied up. At the other, there is a huge beast puppet with scary horns and claws, looking menacing.
Members of the CFYT company in Beauty and the Beast. Image: Pete Jones 2017

Production photo from Sleeping Beauty. The stage is lit in dark green. A group of young performers wearing green costumes and hats are huddled together, looking menacing. A female performer stands behind them, wearing a big dress and pink pointy hat.
CFYT company members in Sleeping Beauty Image: Helen Murray 2018

Sleeping Beauty (2018)

By now, many Youth Theatre members had gone on to achieve amazing things, some in the arts and others embracing transferrable skills on a whole range of career paths. One alumnus is director Lucy Betts, who worked as a Youth Theatre Director in Guildford. In 2018, she returned to CFT to direct Sleeping Beauty - a true full circle moment!

The Wizard of Oz (2019)

For many, the infamous ‘jitterbug’ dance routine in The Wizard of Oz was unforgettable, choreographed by Movement Director Lauren Grant. The jitterbug returned to the stage at CFYT’s Alumni Concert in July 2022.

Production photo from The Wizard of Oz. A girl with pink curly hair wearing a silver and blue embellished jacket and matching hat holds a long, gold, sparkling wand. She looks off to the right with her mouth open, like she is singing. In the background, there is a rainbow in lights. Other young performers are out of focus, looking at her in awe.
Members of the CFYT company in The Wizard of Oz. Image: Helen Murray 2019

Production photo from Pinocchio. Two young male performers are on stage, surrounded by wooden toys. One sits on a colourful chest of drawers and is wearing a brown costume that makes it look like he is made of wood. He looks off to the right with a joyous expression. The other performer stands to the left, looking at him, wearing a brown apron. He has grey hair, exaggerated sideburns and glasses and looks concerned or shocked.
Members of the CFYT company in Pinocchio. Image: Manuel Harlan 2020

Pinocchio (2020)

This was one of the only productions in the UK to battle through its first few performances at an incredibly challenging time. Performances were cancelled from 24 December due to national lockdown restrictions but the show was streamed online to audiences across the world.

Pinocchio (2021)

After it closed early in 2020, Pinocchio was revived in 2021. Nearly all the original cast came back for an emotional return to Christmas theatre.

Production photo from Pinocchio. A group of young performers wearing colourful costumes all stand proudly around the stage, looking out to the audience and singing.
The CFYT company in Pinocchio Image: Manuel Harlan 2021

Production photo from The Wind in the Willows. A male performer sits in a boat that looks like a sardine tin, holding a cotton bud oar. He has a dramatic brown moustache and wears a paper boat as a hat.
A member of the CFYT company in The Wind in the Willows. Image: Manuel Harlan 2022

The Wind in the Willows (2022)

Creating the miniature world of The Wind in the Willows in the Festival Theatre was no mean feat – props and set included a Nesquik carton the size of a caravan, a sardine tin as big as a boat and ten-metre-wide leaves!

The Jungle Book (2023)

Our cast of seventy young performers are in their final few weeks of rehearsals for this year’s Christmas show, The Jungle Book.

‘We want our version of The Jungle Book to feel really playful, energetic and wild. It’s going to be The Jungle Book like you’ve never seen it before' (Director Matt Hassell).

A rehearsal room full of young people. They all stand or sit together in a group looking at the camera and smiling.
Full cast in rehearsals for CFYT's The Jungle Book Image: Tim Hills 2023