The Art of Chichester Festival Theatre: A CelebrationThe Art of Chichester Festival Theatre: A Celebration

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The Art of Chichester Festival Theatre: A Celebration

An exhibition to mark Chichester Festival Theatre’s 50th anniversary.

The theatre has long been a source of inspiration for artists and a place to experiment with innovative costume and set designs. To mark the 50th anniversary of Chichester Festival Theatre - the birthplace of the National Theatre in 1962 - Pallant House Gallery presents a new exhibition celebrating the ways in which visual theatre artists responded to the challenge of designing for the first purpose-built Thrust Stage Theatre in the UK.

Curated and designed by renowned scenographer Professor Pamela Howard OBE, the exhibition will feature set models, drawings, paintings, costumes, props and designs from the early productions by artists such as Michael Annals, Daphne Dare, Jocelyn Herbert, Julia Trevelyan Oman, Sean Kenny, Ralph Koltai CBE, Malcolm Pride, Peter Rice and Alan Tagg, many of which will be shown for the first time. The works will be assembled in a specially-constructed installation of the theatre park designed by Pamela Howard, in the galleries of Pallant House Gallery.

Focussing on the early period of the Theatre (1962 - 1988) and its inception, the exhibition explores how the standards and practices of the new Chichester Festival Theatre influenced designers and interpreters. The thrust stage in particular, which enabled spectators to see the players from all angles for the first time, posed new challenges for costumiers who began to make costumes in meticulous detail which would be interesting for the entire audience: ‘'All the old theatre sayings like ‘you won't notice that from the front' or ‘ it will be alright when it's lit‘ just would no longer apply', says Pamela Howard of that time. ‘We had entered the new age of reality and perfection in construction and materials, and the age of theatrical fakery had passed'.

Elsewhere, the innovative lighting rig mirroring the pentagon roof shape gave birth to lighting designers as artists and a profession in their own right; and the angle of the auditorium, with the audience looking down from three sides, forced the stage floor to take on the importance of the conventional backcloth of the proscenium theatre as the background against which actors were seen. As designers responded to the architecture of the theatre, a simple and dynamic theatre language evolved.

The exhibition includes celebrated British theatre designer Ralph Koltai's striking sculptural evocation of Prospero's Island in The Tempest (1968) -a collection of perfect white spheres and triangles balancing on a white pentagon with a concave floor; the set model for the 1981 production The Mitford Girls, which starred Ned Sherrin and Caryl Brahms, designed by Stefanos Lazaridis, which explored the whole height of the stage space (one of the principal design challenges) and designs and props for The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), which evoked the ancient Aztec Empire through the unity of costume, mask, and staging.

Other exhibits include three time Oscar winner Anthony Powell's designs from the 1974 production of 'The Confederacy', which starred Dora Bryan, Nicholas Clay and Gemma Craven, and a number of designs by Carl Toms OBE, including costume designs for Vivat Vivat Regina! (1970) which starred Eileen Atkins as Queen Elizabeth, and Sarah Miles as Mary Queen of Scots.

Professor Pamela Howard began her career as a headdress maker for ‘The Broken Heart', one of the first productions in 1962, and her installation, which provides the backdrop to the exhibits, will literally bring the park setting into the Gallery.

Click here to hear Pamela Howard discuss the exhibition on BBC Radio 4 Midweek.