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Theatre On The Fly
Launched in 1983, The Tent was a proving ground for many of the next generation of directors in Chichester, including former artistic director Sam Mendes.
It was replaced by the Minerva Theatre in 1989, which has grown from an experimental theatre to home to the likes of established directors Richard Eyre and Max Stafford-Clark.
As part of Chichester’s 50th anniversary celebrations, three young directors – Tim Hoare, Anna Ledwich and Michael Oakley – were approached to launch a new temporary space in the tradition of The Tent.
“The Tent was a place for new, fresh talent,” says Hoare, who will also be directing the world premiere of Evening Standard Award-winning writer Penelope Skinner’s new play Fred’s Diner in August.
“[Chichester artistic director] Jonathan Church has challenged us to come up with a revival of that legacy and spirit. It’s an opportunity for us as trainee directors to complete our training. If you want to learn how to run a building you should build it!
The result is Theatre On The Fly, a collaboration with London-based experimental architects Assemble.
The architects were behind the Cineroleum, a pop-up cinema at a derelict petrol station in London’s Clerkenwell Road in 2010, and last year’s Folly For A Flyover, which hosted films, concerts and boat rides underneath two of the A12’s concrete bridges at Hackney Wick.
James Binning from Assemble was attracted to the project partly because of Chichester’s history as a theatre built by public subscription.
“We were interested in developing some participatory construction,” says Binning.
“We wanted to open up the building site and make it more accessible. There is a real mix of characters who have got involved.”
The theatre construction was sponsored by B&Q, who brought their own team of builders for a session, alongside the core volunteers made up of the youth theatre both past and present and friends of the Chichester theatres.
“We were leaving a lot of stuff open to chance, trying not to rule anything out in terms of materials and design,” says Binning, adding the building is made of recycled and responsibly sourced materials.
The theatre, which was nearing completion when The Guide visited last week, can hold 180 people.
Rather than recreate the thrust stage which the Festival Theatre pioneered back in 1962, the Theatre On The Fly goes for a more traditional set-up, complete with an exposed scenery fly tower which gives the space its name.
“It’s like looking inside a beautiful clock,” says Hoare.
The giant reclaimed wood doors behind the stage can be opened out to give a view of the park as a backdrop – perfect for the opening show, Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills directed by Ledwich, which launched on Tuesday night.
“It is the perfect play, as it is set for the most part outdoors,” says Hoare. “The action can happen out in the park, with the audience getting the feeling that they are outdoors for real.”
The seating is fixed bench-style, and all indoors and undercover. The theatre has onduline bitumen corrugated roofing, designed to stop the sound of rain interrupting the performance.
And the outside walls are made up of a geotextile fabric usually used to line ponds or irrigation channels – so it keeps out the rain, but allows light to pass through from outside as the sun sets.
The more traditional feel to the space, underlined by two balconies featuring plush seating ripped from an Oldham theatre, is perfect for April De Angelis’s irreverent comedy Playhouse Creatures, about the first women on the stage in Restoration England.
The play, which runs from Thursday, July 19, to Saturday, August 11, is being directed by Oakley who, like his two colleagues, has been able to adapt his production to the theatre space with the help of designer Andrew D Edwards.
The towering wooden space will also make a perfect home for Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s epic adaptation of the Noah story.
There will be a series of one-day events, including comedy, talks, a silent disco and a series of rehearsed readings of Chichester hits, including Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt Of The Sun, Eugene Labiche and Marc-Michel’s An Italian Straw Hat and Robert Bolt’s Vivat! Vivat Regina.
Now the focus is on bringing audiences into the space, as well as supporting the new generation of artists.
“We wanted our plays to be embraced by the Chichester audience, but also break new ground for the theatres,” says Hoare.
“We are introducing something new, and hopefully spreading the word to a younger demographic to make them realise this is their theatre.”
* Theatre On The Fly will be at Oaklands Park, Chichester, until Sunday, September 2. For more information call 01243 781312 or visit www.cft.org.uk/totf