Tuesday, August 5, 2008
“The Circle” At Chichester Festival Theatre
After two nights in Rye, we will set out early—we plan to leave no later than 7:45 a.m.—for Arundel.
My brother and I passed through Arundel early one morning in 2004, and we spent an hour walking around the town. We did not visit anything, however, because everything appeared to be closed, including Arundel Castle, so we moved on to another town.
My parents and Josh and his sister have never visited Arundel. Consequently, Arundel will be new territory for everyone.
It should take us ninety minutes to reach Arundel from Rye. We hope to be in the center of Arundel, and have the car parked for the day, by 9:30 a.m.
Arundel, situated on The River Arun, is irrevocably associated with the Howard family, Britain’s leading family of the Roman Catholic faith.
The Howard family holds two exalted titles: those of The Dukes Of Norfolk and The Earls Of Arundel. As such, the family ranks first in The Peerage Of England, outranked only by The British Royal Family. Because of its exalted status, the Howard family has been solely responsible, for centuries, for State Ceremonials. These include the coronation and the funeral of The Sovereign, as well as anything else The Sovereign declares to be a State Occasion, such as the funeral of Winston Churchill.
The Howard family is responsible for Arundel’s two primary attractions: Arundel Cathedral, which the family founded and funded; and Arundel Castle, owned and occupied by the Howard family (and its predecessors) for almost nine centuries.
Arundel Cathedral will be our first stop. It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, not a Church Of England Cathedral.
Arundel Cathedral looks like an ancient edifice, but in fact it is comparatively new. It was planned and erected in the remarkably short span of five years, between 1868 and 1873, an astonishing achievement given that it is a pure and magnificent French Gothic structure, of the kind that formerly required between one and two centuries to erect. The giant Cathedral sits atop one of Arundel’s highest hills, overlooking the town of Arundel and The River Arun below. It is a very impressive sight indeed.
We will walk up the hill to the Cathedral and spend two hours or so exploring the giant building. Most of the monuments and all of the glass are from the 19th and 20th Centuries, but the Cathedral should nonetheless be a real treat, since French Gothic architecture is so flamboyant, inside and out, and since this is one of the most perfect and most glorious examples of French Gothic architecture anywhere outside France.
After Arundel Cathedral, we will spend the rest of the day at Arundel Castle, also atop one of the town’s hills.
Arundel Castle is supposed to be one of the most elaborate and most fascinating castles anywhere. It is the second-largest castle in Britain, and its grounds and gardens alone occupy more than 40 acres.
We will buy a comprehensive ticket—at a cost of 15 British pounds per person, or roughly $35.00 a head—because a comprehensive ticket will grant us access to everything, including the “bedrooms” (state apartments for official visitors), which will be open to the public on this particular afternoon.
The interior of the castle opens precisely at 12:00 Noon, and remains open only for four hours, so we will begin our explorations there.
Despite the fact that the castle serves as a residence, it is also, for practical purposes, both an art museum and a history museum. It is a repository of paintings (Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, Joshua Reynolds, Canaletto), tapestries, sculpture, stained glass, china and porcelain, clocks, heraldry and armor, and furniture, all of which are of the very highest quality, distinction and interest. Because nothing is labeled—the Castle is, after all, a home—there is a professional guide situated in each room to answer any visitor questions about that room’s architecture and art objects.
The castle is also a treasure trove of history. Because the Howard family has been closely associated with the British Crown for so many centuries, the family owns innumerable historic artifacts of the greatest interest, many of which are on display, such as the prayer book and rosary beads of Mary, Queen Of Scots.
Apparently it takes approximately two hours to go through the Castle rooms on a normal day—and on this day the “bedrooms” will be open, which will require additional time to explore. The “bedrooms” in question are not the family’s own bedrooms—the family bedrooms are never open to the public—but state apartments created especially for official guests. The most impressive of these “bedrooms” is an elaborate suite of rooms created and decorated especially for Queen Victoria, who made a single visit to Arundel Castle very early in her reign. The “bedrooms” of Queen Victoria remain exactly as they were at the time of her visit in 1846, and they are among the “bedrooms” open to visitors on this particular day.
Once we have completed our visit to the interior of the castle, we will have a late lunch at the castle restaurant, situated in the original Servants’ Hall. It is supposed to be quite excellent.
After lunch, we will explore the grounds—flower gardens, herb gardens and kitchen gardens (actually in use for the family’s needs), formal gardens with statuary (several of which are patterned after historic gardens from the 14th and 15th Centuries)—and explore the glass houses (special plants) and the Castle Keep (131 steps to the top, but it affords what is supposed to be a literally stunning view of the town below) and the Fitzalan Chapel, a splendid example of English Perpendicular architecture. Dukes Of Norfolk are always buried in Fitzalan Chapel.
Fitzalan Chapel is part of a very unusual building. Fitzalan Chapel, built for private Roman Catholic worship, occupies castle grounds, and it is only accessible by purchasing a ticket to visit Arundel Castle. Fitzalan Chapel shares its building, however, with a public Anglican church, The Parish And Priory Church Of Saint Nicholas. The Parish And Priory Church Of Saint Nicholas has its own separate entrance outside castle grounds and is freely open for public worship. A glass partition divides the private Roman Catholic Fitzalan Chapel from the public Anglican Church Of Saint Nicholas, making the building one of the most unusual houses of worship in the world. As a practical matter, the Anglican portion of the building occupies the nave of the church structure, and the Roman Catholic portion occupies the chancel. I am keen to see the church interior in person, and observe how this all works out.
We plan to remain at Arundel Castle until 5:15 p.m. or so. Around that time, we intend to leave the castle and return to the town, pick up our car, and drive to nearby Chichester, where we will spend the next two nights. Chichester is only ten miles away from Arundel, and it should take us only twenty or thirty minutes to arrive at our hotel in Chichester.
We will check into our hotel, but almost immediately we will leave for the Chichester Festival Theatre, where we will attend the 7:30 p.m. performance of Somerset Maugham’s serious comedy from 1921, “The Circle”, starring Susan Hampshire.
Chichester Festival Theatre has many parallels with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Both were planned, established and built from scratch in the early 1960’s. Both had legendary inaugural artistic directors (Laurence Oliver and Tyrone Guthrie, respectively). Both were deliberately established in the “provinces”. Both erected modernist concrete structures typical of the 1960’s (the original Chichester Festival Theatre, still in use, is a hexagonal concrete-and-glass bunker of some architectural interest; the first Guthrie Theater has already been demolished and been replaced with a new, larger, glass-and-steel monstrosity). Both theaters abandoned the traditional proscenium stage from the start in favor of a thrust stage (Olivier liked the result in Chichester so much that one of the theaters in The National Theatre—the one named after him—was also built with a thrust stage). Both theaters had as their mission the development of a repertory theater company, and the development of a sophisticated theater audience, that would be capable of offering and sustaining better and more serious work than could be done commercially in London and New York. Both theaters are still thriving forty-six and forty-five years, respectively, after their openings.
The production of “The Circle” we shall attend will be performed at the Festival Theatre, the larger of the two theatres in use by Chichester Festival Theatre. Festival Theatre seats just over 1200 persons.
We shall have a light picnic supper prior to the performance—the Chichester Festival Theatre is situated in a lovely parkland setting, ideal for picnics, and the theater offers picnics to theatergoers prior to performances—and we have already made reservations at the theater’s very fine formal dining establishment for a post-performance three-course dinner. We decided to do things right for this inaugural visit to Chichester Festival Theatre by my parents and Josh and Josh’s sister.
I look forward to “The Circle” and I look forward to seeing Susan Hampshire, who is supposed to be a very fine stage actress. I have never seen her.
I predict this will be a very special evening for everyone.