BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Sussex Life|July 2020
While we won’t get to enjoy Festival performances this year, Chichester Festival Theatre remains at the heart of our cultural community. Here we look back over some highlights of its 58-year history
Jenny Mark-Bell

Chichester Festival Theatre was founded by a local ophthalmic optician and former city mayor, Leslie EvershedMartin, following an idea he had whilst watching a television program in 1959 about the Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario, Canada.

Leslie managed to recruit probably the most sought-after actor and director of the age, Sir Laurence Olivier, to become Chichester Festival Theatre’s first artistic director. When the theatre opened, it was the first thrust stage to be built in the UK for more than 400 years. The theatre’s opening attracted huge national and international press attention, and dedicated train service was put on to transfer audience members back to London after the evening’s performance. The Daily Mail reported that it was “the chattiest and most un-British train that British Rail runs”.

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