Chichester Festival Theatre, UK

Phillip Powell and Hidalgo Moya - Christopher Stevens project architect
Charles Weiss & Partners Engineers
Date Built
1966- 1967
Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP
This Grade II* Listed theatre was commissioned by Leslie Evershed-Martin, the founder of the Chichester Players and chairman of the Chichester Festival Trust.  The Historic England listing notes say that it is of "Reinforced concrete, the principal structural elements bush hammered. Hexagonal form derived from economic and acoustic considerations, the stadium-plan auditorium (seating 1,374) raised over the single-storey foyer on cantilevers. These with the concrete tiering of the auditorium expressed, form a projecting canopy to the foyer roof and with a trabeated patterning. Tent-inspired main roof held by tension wires to rigid ring beam resting on solid staircase wells to side. Staircases expressed externally by white-painted vertical slats and blue vertical strip glazing; the foyer is wholly glazed to exploit views of the surrounding parkland."

Writing on the theatre's website Fay Wilson adds that, "... When designing the auditorium the architects knew they had to arrange a certain number of seats around a Thrust stage. They started with a large circle (the auditorium) with a smaller circle inside it, pushed against one side (the stage), and worked from there. They soon decided a hexagonal auditorium would make for better acoustics and would be much cheaper to construct." The theatre boasts the first suspension roof in the UK.  Rob Healy points out that, "... Four pre-tensile steel cables run between the tops of the concrete pillars at each point of the Festival Theatre hexagon, holding this building together. Driven right through the concrete, they pull opposite columns together and can clearly be seen just below the ceiling inside the auditorium. They counter the forces from the roof and the walls of the auditorium pushing down and outwards. They also bear the weight of the part of the auditorium that is cantilevered over the Theatre entrance, pushing strongly outwards and down."  The ends of the cables can be seen below anchored at the top of the pillar.

Inside the theatre featured an apron stage made of Canadian Maple inspired by the stage designed by Tyrone Guthrie for his Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.


On the 23nd of April 1989 a second theatre was added to the site.  Named the Minerva Theatre its first artistic director was Sam Mendes.  The Minerva has a much smaller capacity than the original Festival Theatre with a capacity of just 283.  The website explains that, "... As the Festival Theatre became more established, some of the actors wanting to do more daring and challenging work effectively started their own fringe festival in the form of the New Ventures project at the Dolphin and Anchor Hotel. These impromptu performances grew in scale and moved into a large marquee, known as The Tent, opposite the Festival Theatre. It was the work of these actors which prompted the creation of the Minerva Theatre which stands today on The Tent's old site and keeps alive its tradition of exploring new and exciting work. The Minerva Theatre itself opened in April 1989 under the direction of Sam Mendes, after a successful fundraising campaign including a donation of £500,000 from a local businessman."

The sculpture outside the foyer of the Minerva Theatre is of Minerva the Roman Godess of crafts, poetry and wisdom.  It is signed Jackson by the sculptor Philip Jackson.

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