Three Cheers for Chichester

As the title suggests, this post – like Gaul – will be divided into three parts (probably plus some digressions, if I’m being honest).

Yesterday, I went to Chichester for the second time since my move to the South Coast.  It is just a simple, thrifty train ride from home which makes it an eminently feasible destination for a day trip.  My primary reason for going was to visit the theatre, at the moment the Minerva as the main festival theatre is undergoing major renewal (like a giant, concrete library book).  My first visit was to see the newish (1981) play Another Country by Julian Mitchell.  Set in a boys’ boarding school in the thirties – but despite this unfamiliar setting (to me at least) it made for compelling drama and much to provoke thought in a middle-aged man some 80- years after the (fictional) event.  Then again, I do wonder if my thoughts are particular prone to even the slightest provocation – on, as ’twere, a hair-trigger.

Yesterday I went to see King Lear, a play that had somehow eluded my gaze heretofore.  Perhaps its nature as a tragedy and the feeling that one knows what happens had put me off, but it was advertised as following Another Country and it shared an actor with Dead Cat, so I thought I’d give it a go.  It was well that I booked fairly early, as it garnered (whether Alan or James I’m never entirely sure) very good reviews and I believe seats are now unattainable.  It as an incredible piece of theatre and caused the most emotion in me (oh yes, there were tears before teatime) of any Shakespeare play I have seen.  It was also an excellent reminder that the journey is often so much more important than the destination – living through the play was so much more than merely knowing the broad details of the plot.

On my first visit to Chichester, as I sought out the location of the theatre (which seems accessible only via a large car park) I came across Whipped and Baked as a venue for my pre-theatre lunch (I like a matinee as you can be home at a sensible hour and easily imagine you are still young within the age-profile of an afternoon audience).  This offers all that one could wish for in a bakery/coffee-shop – the food is both ethical and excellent and there is a splendid slightly counter-cultural vibe about the place.  W&B was born at a tattoo convention in Brighton and the man who commands front-of-house (though not the till) reminded me of a retired roadie – and it seems he was one.   W&B is now a regular port of call on my way to the Minerva.  However, you do not have to take my word for it – Frank Langella (American actor extraordinaire), King Lear himself, comes in most days for a couple of brownies.

My third cheer relates to the Pallant House Gallery.  I located this on my first visit, but it was only yesterday that I ventured within.  For a relatively small (though larger than I expected from the exterior) provincial gallery this is a marvel.  What an amazing collection of 20th century, mostly British art, either as part of its permanent collection or as visiting show!  At least half the rooms were worth the price of admission (discounted by my National Art Pass) on their own.  I’d particularly mention the Ravilious prints and the Nicholson Circle exhibitions – but everywhere was art that was interesting and inspiring.

I had been to Chichester before – I think to see friends sing in the cathedral, but had never even guessed at the other delights the place offers.  Without my move, I doubt I would have gone there again – very much to my loss.  So my plan to see the whole country as a local (by the rather expensive method of living in its various regions) is already proving itself to be less idiotic that it might have seemed.

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