The Joy of the Unexpected. 2 March 2012

Chichester is a ‘grande dame’ of a town - elegant, self assured and good company. 

Its charms are there for all to see, and I count among those charms the Festival Theatre, which I have visited regularly over the last fifteen years of its illustrious fifty year history.

I'm proud to be working with the lovely team at CFT during its anniversary year, and a day of meetings is rarely such a pleasure as in Chichester.

The initial anxiety of being away from my desk for a day quickly dissipated as London gives way to joyous views of the Sussex countryside.

Can you imagine the awe that must have been inspired by the sight of Arundel Castle in the middle ages, when even now it looks to be unreal and surely built at Leavesden for a scene in a Harry Potter film?

I believe it is soon to play a starring role in Richard II, one of Neal Street Production's upcoming Shakespeare films for the BBC.

Now another jewel in the Chichester crown has revealed itself to me and I do not know why I was so taken aback at the unexpected beauty of its revelation.

I like to think that I am always open to finding inspiration and affirmation in unexpected places.

Anyone who leaves the cultural tsunami of Central London for a significant amount of time will know the pleasure of finding something that feels like a secret discovery to the over-stimulated urban mind.

Pallant House Gallery is just such a find, and I was completely overwhelmed by it.

After a lunchtime meeting in the gallery’s marvelous brasserie about an upcoming exhibition The Art of Chichester Festival Theatre, we had an impromptu private tour.

Of course, the fact that the space fuses some of my favourite things - Georgian interiors, 20th century British painting, a print studio, compassionate modern architecture and a bit of carved stone lettering here and there - has a lot to do with my new found evangelism, but such a place, thriving and vital and very much in tune with the modern world, is so wonderful to encounter unexpectedly.

We are spoilt by the artistic riches in Central London, but their proximity to each other can dull our experience of them.

A place is much easier to appreciate when there is 'air around it'. In relative isolation, the view of it is clearer.

Ryan Petersen

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