The Phoenix Theatre is a West End theatre in the London Borough of Camden, located on Charing Cross Road (at the corner with Flitcroft Street). The entrances are in Phoenix Street and Charing Cross Road. Phoenix Theatre was built on the place where there was previously a factory and then the music hall Alcazar.
The theatre was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crewe and Cecil Massey. It has a restrained neoclassical exterior, but an interior designed in an Italianate style by director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky. Vladimir Polunin copied works by Tintoretto, Titian, Pinturicchio and Giorgione. It has a safety curtain that holds Jacopo del Sellaio's The Triumph of Love.
There are golden engravings in the auditorium, and red seats, carpets and curtains. This look is based on traditional Italian theatres. There are decorated ceilings and sculpted wooden doors throughout the building. It opened on 24 September 1930 with the première of Private Lives by Noël Coward, who also appeared in the play, with Adrienne Allen, Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier. Coward returned to the theatre with Tonight at 8:30 in 1936 and Quadrille in 1952.
On 16 December 1969, the long association with Coward was celebrated with a midnight matinee in honour of his 70th birthday, and the foyer bar was renamed the Noel Coward Bar. The Phoenix has had a number of successful plays including John Gielgud's Love for Love during the Second World War. Harlequinade and The Browning Version, two plays by Terence Rattigan, opened on 8 September 1948 at the theatre.
In the mid-1950s, Paul Scofield and Peter Brook appeared at the theatre. In 1968, a musical version of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales opened and ran for around two thousand performances. Night and Day, a 1978 play by Tom Stoppard, ran for two years. The theatre hosted many musicals in the 1980s and 1990s, including The Biograph Girl with Sheila White, The Baker's Wife by Stephen Schwartz directed by Trevor Nunn, and Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, starring Julia McKenzie. There were also a number of plays by William Shakespeare. Its first pantomime was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs starring Dana in 1983.
The production of Blood Brothers, the Willy Russell musical that transferred from The Albery Theatre in November 1991, ended a 21-year run on 10 November 2012 after becoming the longest-running production at the theatre. Following limited engagements of Goodnight Mr Tom and Midnight Tango. The theatre then played host to the original West End production of Broadway musical Once, which opened in April 2013 and closed on 21 March 2015.
Bend it Like Beckham: The Musical, Guys and Dolls and The Last Tango played in 2016, with Dirty Dancing and Peppa Pig's Surprise comprising the 2016 Christmas season. The Girls, a new musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth based on The Calendar Girls film, Played at the Phoenix Theatre with previews from 28 January 2017, and officially opened on 21 February 2017, The production closed on 15 July 2017. In December 2017 it was announced that Chicago the Musical will play at the Phoenix Theatre with previews starting on 26 March 2018 and will run to at least 30 June 2018. The theatre is owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group. Since 1973 it has been a Grade II Listed Building.
The Phoenix Theatre opened on the 24th of September 1930 with the very successful play 'Private Lives' by Noel Coward, staring Coward himself, Gertrude Lawrence, Adrianne Allen, and Laurence Olivier, and ran for 101 performances before transferring to America. The Theatre was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crew, and Cecil Masey, with an auditorium designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky. The Theatre was built by Bovis Ltd., on land which had previously been a factory and then became a Music Hall for a while, called the Alcazar.
The Alcazar was an unusual kind of Music Hall and was basically a very long hall with three different stages, which the audience would then wander from one to the other, as each 'Turn' finished their act and the next began. It was also used as a kind of audition space where, although the public paid for admission, theatre managers did not, as they were always on the look out for new 'Turns' to populate their own Theatres and Music Halls. Unfortunately for the owner, Lucien Samett, the idea didn't take off and the Alcazar soon became something quite different. The Stage referred to it as being a 'Fun City,' with slot machines and gambling on the ground floor, and above; rather dubious sounding 'exhibitions' such as 'Beautiful Artists' and 'Posing Models'.
The Phoenix Theatre replaced the Alcazar in 1930 and was one of many Theatres which opened in London's West End that year, and one of several opening in the same month. First there was the Prince Edward on April the 3rd, then the Cambridge on the 4th of September, then the Phoenix on the 24th of September, and the Whitehall on the 29th of September. Then came the rebuilt Adelphi Theatre on 3rd of December, and finally the Leicester Square Theatre which opened on December the 19th. Quite a flurry of Theatre building for one year in the 1930s. The Phoenix Theatre has two entrances on two different streets, one in Charing Cross Road and the second on Phoenix Street from which the Theatre takes its name.
The day after the Phoenix opened, The Stage reviewed this new Theatre in their 25th of September edition, here reprinted from 'The Theatres of London' by Mander and Mitchenson which read:- 'The distinguished columns here are blues and pinks on a cream ground, and the whole is lavishly picked out with modelling in gold. Large windows in the adjacent promenade allow late-comers and others who might for some reason or other be prevented from getting to their seats to view the stalls level and the stage. The circle appears to come far forward and has a commodious upper circle above it.
Care has been taken in the comfort of the seating. Each seat has sufficient body and leg room and is provided with its own hat rack. There are six roomy private boxes. The upholstery has a touch of the medieval, and is in a rare shade of dark pink with a touch of heliotrope or light purple in its pattern. In the front of the house rich reds, blues, and gold appear to be the prime colours. Bars and cloakrooms are well appointed, but no attempt has been made here in the shape of elaborate decoration. A striking feature in the interior decoration will be found in the fine reproductions of works by old masters. Here we have well executed copies of pictures by Titian, Giorgione, Tintoretto and Pinturicchio. The safety curtain carries Jacopo del Sellaio's 'The Triumph of Love' the original of which can be seen in the Oratorio di S. Ansano, Fiesole. These reproductions are the work of Vladimir Polunin.'
The above text in quotes was first published in The Stage, 25th of September 1930, and reprinted in 'The Theatres of London' by Mander and Mitchenson.
After the success of the Phoenix Theatre's opening play, which had a three month contract but could have carried on for longer if it hadn't had, the next production was the equally successful 'Late Night Final' by Louis Weitzenkorn which opened in June 1931 and ran for 132 performances.
However, after the initial success with the opening productions at the Theatre later productions did not do so well and it was soon to become a Variety Theatre, if only for a short while, whilst also showing screenings of the latest films, but this also met with little success for the Theatre. Noel Coward was back in 1936 however, and the Theatre picked up considerably with his productions of one act plays called 'Tonight at 8.30'. This did very well and ran for 157 performances. One of the plays in this series was 'Still Lives' which was later made into the now classic Film 'Brief Encounter.'
Noel Coward writes on presenting three short plays at the Phoenix Theatre in 1936
'Ladies and Gentlemen... The idea of presenting three short plays in an evening instead of one long one is far from original. In fact, if one looks back over the Years, one finds that the "triple bill" formula has been used, with varying degrees of success, since the earliest days of the Theatre. Latterly, however, that is (during the last quarter of a century), it has fallen from favour. Occasionally still a curtain-raiser appears in the Provinces, but wearing a sadly hang-dog expression, because it knows only too well, poor thing, that it would not be there at all were the main attraction of the evening long enough...
Then there was Frank Otter. Here was a man of some standing, who had married into the Theatre. To see Frank far away from a bottle of Rum was to see a wonder. His genial face was the colour of a ripe Victoria plum. He had a curious voice, with slurring tones, but very characteristic. Nothing disturbed him. A bottle of champagne, a pal or two, and the worst of the blitz, even an atomic bomb, would not have made Frank Otter turn a hair. For those things, especially in that little understairs Palace bar, formed his world...
...Its spirit is further humiliated by the fact that the leading actors treat it with the utmost disdain, seldom leaving their star dressing-rooms to glance at it, let alone play it. Therefore it has to get along as well as it can in the hands of small part actors and understudies who, although frequently far more talented and charming than their principals, have neither the name, authority nor experience to triumph over rustling programmes, banging seats and a general atmosphere of bored impatience.
A short play, having a great advantage over a long one in that it can sustain a mood without technical creaking or over-padding, deserves a better fate, and if, by careful writing, acting and producing I can do a little towards reinstating it in its rightful pride, I shall have achieved one of my more sentimental ambitions.
From our point of view behind the footlights the experiment will obviously be interesting. The monotony of repetition will be reduced considerably and it is to be hoped that the stimulus Miss Lawrence, the Company and I will undoubtedly derive from playing several roles during a week instead of only one, will communicate itself to the audience, thereby ensuring that a good time be had by all.
All of the plays included in the programmes have been written especially. There has been no unworthy scuffling in cupboards and bureau drawers in search of forgotten manuscripts, and no hurried refurbishing of old, discarded ideas. The primary object of the scheme is to provide a full and varied evening's entertainment for theatregoers who, we hope, will try their best to overcome any latent prejudices they may have against short plays and, at least, do us the honour of coming to judge for themselves.'
The above text in quotes is by Noel Coward - From a Programme for 'To-Night At 8.30' in 1936.
The Phoenix Theatre has had a checkered history with many successes and quite a few failures. In 1938 the Theatre began showing Films instead of live theatre again but was later taken over by Jack Bartholomew who revived live theatre at the Phoenix with a production of 'Judgment Day' by Elmer Rice in the first months of the Second World War in 1939.
Venue Access Information. Wheelchair users can access the theatre with no steps via Flitcroft Street. Seats. Non- transfers: there is one wheelchair space in Box C for a non-transfer patron. The corridor to Box C is 90 cm. The door to Box C is 78 cm. There are two unfixed chairs in the Box. Box is restricted view (left side stage).
Transfers: into Dress Circle Row A seat 28 (fixed seat) - although, theatre staff are unable to assist disabled patrons. If transferring, the patron’s wheelchair will be taken care of by front of house staff during the performance and bought back to the patron once the show has ended. There are double doors to reach this area of the theatre so large wheelchairs can be accomodated.
Entrance. The main entrance to the theatre is on Phoenix Street. The foyer and box office are one shallow step from street level. There are handrails throughout the theatre on all levels. Stalls. There are 13 steps down to the Stalls from the foyer. There is no lift and the Stalls can only be accessed on foot. There are exits at the rear of both aisles.
Dress Circle. There are 21 steps up from the foyer to the Dress Circle. The Dress Circle can be accessed from street level via Flitcroft Street. There are exits at the rear of both aisles. From back of Dress Circle (row K) to front (row A) there are 18 steps. Upper Circle. There are 51 steps up from the foyer to the Upper Circle. There is no lift and the Upper Circle can only be accessed on foot. Exits at rear (row J). From back of Upper Circle (row J) to front (row A) there are 24 steps.
Bars. There are bars on all levels. Plushy bar is 4 steps down from the Stalls. Dress Circle bar is 3 steps up from the Dress Circle. Upper Circle bar is 8 steps down from the Upper Circle. Patrons must negotiate stairs to access any of the bars. If prearranged with front of house drinks can be left in the Royal Room for access patrons using the Box.
Sennheiser Infra-red and Induction Loop sound amplification systems are in use throughout the auditorium. These can be collected from the foyer bar on Phoenix Street. Guide dogs are allowed into the theatre area.
Ladies and Gents toilets on all levels. An adapted toilet is on Dress Circle level in the Royal Room. There are no steps to this toilet from Box C or Row A Dress Circle, but there are 2 slightly awkward turns. Patrons must negotiate stairs to access any of the other toilets: Stalls: Ladies are 7 steps down and 3 steps up, right of Plushy bar. Gents are at the rear of stalls - high seat number side; Dress Circle: Ladies and Gents on same level as bar, 3 steps up from Dress Circle level; Upper Circle: Ladies are the same level as Upper Circle and Gents are in Upper Circle bar (8 steps down).
Phoenix Theatre Visual Story: a visual resource to help prepare visitors for a new experience and to help them become familiar with new surroundings and what to expect. Please contact the venue's Access Champion to request a copy. Read their Access Guide here.
Location : Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0JP
Access Line : 0800 912 6971
Tel: 0844 871 7629