Richard Wilson & Sharon D Clarke lead opening shows at Chichester’s Festival 2017

Lessons begin in earnest for 50 local youngsters who have been enroled to join Richard Wilson and the company in the opening production of Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2017 season, Forty Years On.

Richard Wilson leads the cast in Alan Bennett’s comedy, as the headmaster. He is joined by Thomas Bird, Lucy Briers, Alan Cox, Jenny Galloway, Michael Hamway, Joe Idris-Roberts, Danny Lee Wynter Michael Lin, Oliver Marshall, James McConville, Martin Sarreal and Silas Wyatt-Barke.

Forty Years On is set in a 1960s public school on the South Downs. The headmaster is retiring and it is his last day. His final task is to appear in the school play.

The problem is, he’s yet to read the script. It soon becomes clear that ‘Speak for England, Arthur’ is not quite the celebration of school tradition the headmaster might have expected.

A glorious comedy, Alan Bennett’s first play is a hilarious and at times unnerving enquiry into Englishness, nostalgia and identity. Written at a time of tumultuous social change it explores, with great satirical verve, the impact of the past on the present.

Forty Years On runs in the Festival Theatre from April 21 – May 20.

In other casting news, CFT has announced the full ensemble for Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline, Or Change which opens the Minerva Theatre season.

Sharon D. Clarke plays Caroline Thibodeaux. Joining her in the cast are Keisha Amponsa Banson, Me’sha Bryan, Angela Caesar, Alex Gaumond, Nicola Hughes, Teddy Kempner, Beverley Klein, Ako Mitchell, Abiona Omonua, Gloria Onitiri, Vincent Pirillo, Jennifer Saayeng and Lauren Ward.

Caroline is an African American maid in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and earning thirty dollars a week working for the Jewish Gellman family. She is a single parent and the mother of four children.

Eight-year-old Noah Gellman visits Caroline in the basement as she does the washing and ironing. But when the boy begins leaving loose change in his laundry, his stepmother Rose devises a deterrent with revealing and far-reaching consequences.

This Olivier Award-winning musical mixes blues, soul, Motown, classical music and Jewish folk songs to create a beautiful, uplifting and deeply moving portrait of 1960s America at a time of huge social upheaval spurred by the civil rights movement.

Author of the ground-breaking Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s book and lyrics were partly inspired by his own boyhood. The score is by Jeanine Tesori.

Caroline, Or Change runs in the Minerva from May 6 – June 3.

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