‘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!
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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