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Lenny Henry and Gershwin among highlights of Chichester 2015 season

Lenny Henry, who will be hosting the Olivier Awards, in a scene from Fences. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Lenny Henry is to star in Educating Rita as part of Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2015 line-up, which also includes a season of Chekhov’s early work adapted by David Hare and performed in repertoire by a company of 22 actors.

The theatre’s 2015 programme, the first to be announced since the completion of the venue’s refurbishment last summer, also includes a new stage version of film musical A Damsel in Distress and David Haig in Frank McGuinness’ Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. This will be directed by former Almeida Theatre artistic director Michael Attenborough in his Chichester debut.

Chichester’s Young Chekhov season runs from September 28 to November 14 and will see three plays staged: Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull. Audiences will be able to watch them individually or as a trilogy in a single day.

These plays will by directed by Jonathan Kent, who helmed Gypsy at the venue last year, and the cast includes Anna Chancellor, James McArdle and Samuel West.

Artistic director Jonathan Church explained: “This theatre has always, at times in its history, played more than one production in repertoire. Some of the redesign work we did was to enable that repertoire to be more technically possible. It’s probably the most ambitious bit of repertoire we’ve done – one writer, one environment, with one company co-existing on the stage for the three plays.”

Church added that the season would offer a “fascinating portrait of a young artist we all think we know”.

CFT’s season opens with Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream, in which the theatre’s stage will be transformed into a river. It will star Sarah Parish in her Chichester debut. Nadia Fall directs the comedy, which runs from April 23 to May 16.

It continues with The Rehearsal by Jean Anouilh, translated by Jeremy Sams, who also directs. This runs from May 8 to June 6 in the Minerva Theatre.

Sams has also co-written the book to A Damsel in Distress with Robert Hudson. The musical has music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and runs from May 30 to June 27, directed by Rob Ashford, whose credits include Shrek the Musical.

Church said Chichester had been developing the musical with Ashford “over a number of years”, and described it as a new stage show inspired by the novel and subsequent play by PG Wodehouse, as well as the film.

“The musical starts outside the Savoy Theatre in London, and as we are doing it we will have Gypsy running there with Imelda Staunton and that tickles me,” Church added.

Educating Rita, starring Henry in his Chichester debut, runs in the Minerva from June 18 to July 25, directed by Michael Buffong, artistic director of Talawa Theatre Company. Willy Russell’s play is being staged as it celebrates its 35th anniversary, and also stars Lashana Lynch.

The previously announced Jerry Herman musical Mack and Mabel, starring Michael Ball, follows, running from July 13 to September 5 in the Festival Theatre, directed by Church and choreographed by Stephen Mear.

Howard Davies will direct W Somerset Maugham’s For Services Rendered in the Minerva from July 31 to September 5, with Attenborough helming McGuinness’ Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me in the Minerva from September 10 to October 10, starring Haig.

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