Chichester: Rachel revels in childhood favourites

Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann) & Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps) in CFT's HALF A SIXPENCE Photo by Manuel Harlan
Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann) & Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps) in CFT's HALF A SIXPENCE Photo by Manuel Harlan
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Rachel Kavanaugh is delighted to say she is working her way through shows which are glowing childhood memories.

She ticked off The Music Man at Chichester Festival Theatre some years ago; she’s recently directed Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; and now she’s directing the CFT’s new version of Half A Sixpence (July 14-September 3).

“It’s just a show I have always loved. Last summer (CFT artistic director) Jonathan Church and Cameron Mackintosh came to see my production of Seven Brides at the Open Air Theatre at Regent’s Park, and the next day, I got a call to talk about Half A Sixpence. I knew that George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were working on it (new music and lyrics) from just chatting to them, and the opportunity came up to be working with great people again on a show I have always loved.”

And, importantly, on a show she knew wasn’t perfect and therefore offered plenty of scope for a reworking.

“What Julian Fellowes has done is go back to the novel, and our book is entirely new. The film was like a production from the 1960s. Our version feels like a production from now and also a production from the time the story is set. There is not a single song that they have not completely written the lyrics for or rewritten the lyrics for. I think we are moving towards a proper, single authorial voice.

“But I have to say I haven’t watched the film for a long time. My memories of it are childhood memories. I hadn’t seen it for 30 years and then I was asked to do the job. I remember loving it when I was little, and maybe I am looking back through rose-tinted glasses, but I have that fondness for it, and maybe you have to have that fondness when you are doing a big musical or a big new version of a big musical. You have to have that love for it.

“And it is lovely to be back here in Chichester, especially during Jonathan and (executive director) Alan (Finch’s) last season here. There is such a familiarity with that stage and with that space.”

Great too to be able to exploit all the possibilities created by the CFT’s multi-million revamp which has happened since she directed The Music Man on the main-house stage in 2008.

“We had to get a waggon up two steps in The Music Man! Now with this we have got a wonderful big set, and with a one-level proper-size scene dock, we can wheel it out of the gloom and then back and a whole new scene can emerge.

“Obviously the main reason for working somewhere is always the project, but I have always loved working with Jonathan and Alan, and I feel very grateful that they have included me in the line-up for their final season.”

Great too to be providing the big summer musical which has become so much a part of Jonathan’s summers in Chichester: “I think the musical is one of the things that puts the festival in Chichester Festival Theatre. There is something hugely enjoyable and scenically splendid and magical and transporting about a big summer musical at the height of the season when the summer is at its most giddy.”

And great to be working again too with Emma Williams who played the tragic heroine in Rachel’s production of Love Story in the Minerva a few years ago: “I am very pleased with the way it is shaping up. It looks gorgeous, the cast are excellent, all the support is wonderful, and it is very, very exciting to think that people will be enjoying it.”