Lenny Henry for Educating Rita in Chichester 2015 Festival

Lenny Henry

Lenny Henry, a triple bill of Chekhov and a full flowing river are announced for Chichester’s Festival 2015 season announced today.

The season opens with the transformation of the Festival Theatre stage into a river, complete with life-size boat, for its production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream. This nautical comedy features Sarah Parish making her Chichester debut.

A major season of Anton Chekhov’s early work offers the first ever chance to see a triple bill of first three plays Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull  in versions by David Hare. Directed by Jonathan Kent the productions will feature Anna Chancellor, James McArdle and Samuel West.


Said Hare: “Chekhov essentially created contemporary theatre, and in these three plays you see the arrival of his genius.

“Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull are all the work of a young man – full of a vigour, a wildness and a romanticism which you rarely find in his later work.

“For me, working on these early plays has been a mission. They uncover a passionate side of Chekhov which so few audiences know, and which he later hid behind craftier strategies of disguise.”

Two major musicals feature in the Festival Theatre with the previously announced return of Michael Ball  to Chichester in Mack & Mabel, directed by Jonathan Church. There is also a new stage version of A Damsel in Distress,  a glorious depiction of English eccentricity, directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford.

Lenny Henry makes his debut as the world-weary lecturer Frank, alongside Lashana Lynch as Rita in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, directed by Talawa artistic director Michael Buffong.

The actor said: “When I began studying for an Open University degree, it was a pivotal period that opened my mind to the delights of Shakespeare and so much more. I’d already become established as a successful comedian, but education held the key to a world that led to a new chapter in my career.

“It means a great deal to me personally and professionally to be in Willy Russell’s classic play about the ways in which education can change your life.

“I hope that it’ll inspire audiences to think about the pathways and obstacles to success that education offers the young – and not so young! – today.”

Over in The Minterva Theatre the themes of war, conflict and freedom of speech are explored in Frank McGuinness’s award-winning drama, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, with David Haig and Somerset Maugham’s For Services Rendered which depicts the far-reaching consequences of World War One for one ordinary English family.

The Minerva will also stage  a new production of The Rehearsal, a razor-sharp comedy of manners directed by Jeremy Sams, who has also written the translation.

Artistic director Jonathan Church said: “It is wonderful to present our first full season since the reopening of the Festival Theatre last year, and the tenth since Alan Finch and I began work at Chichester.

“We are looking forward to consolidating last year’s achievements with this year’s season. It features a particularly impressive calibre of directors, and embraces both the old and the new, ranging from the early work of one of the world’s most acclaimed and enduring playwrights, to an exciting world premiere by our Youth Theatre.”

Executive director Alan Finch said: “Festival 2014 has been our most successful season yet with over £5.5million in box office sales. We achieved an average of 95% capacity for Festival 2014, attracting over 40% new bookers to the theatre.

“Having succeeded in reopening the Festival Theatre on time and on target, our aim this year is to make the most of all the opportunities we’ll have to use our renewed building as creatively as possible.

“We are looking forward to the challenge of staging productions that are bigger and bolder, and that will enhance the audience experience.”

Public booking opens March 11.

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