The Phoenix Theatre opened on 24th September 1930, Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Cecil Massey and Bertie Crewe, it was built on the site of the Alcazar Music Hall, a performance space that had fallen from grace into a casino, as well as offering exhibitions such as ‘Beautiful Artists’ and ‘Posing Models’ – not shows one would expect to see it a respected music hall. The exterior of the building takes on a neoclassical look, with an interior designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky inspired by the interiors of traditional Italian theatres. The auditorium was decorated with intricate gold engravings, as well as decorated ceilings, lush red seats and sculpted wooden doors. The theatre has remained largely as it was constructed, not undergoing extensive renovations like other West End Houses.
The play chosen to open the Phoenix Theatre was Noël Coward’s Private Lives, which Mr Coward also starred in alongside Laurence Olivier. It was a great success for the theatre, and Mr Coward could be seen again at the venue in 1936 with Tonight at 8:30 and Quadrille in 1952. Such was his association with the theatre that on his 70th birthday the bar in the foyer of the theatre was given the name the Noël Coward Bar in his honour.
The Phoenix Theatre saw a steady succession of plays take up residence on its stage, including John Gielgud’s Love for Love, and premieres of Terence Rattigan’s plays Harlequinade and The Browning Version. It wasn’t until 1968 that the theatre hosted its first successful musical, an adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, which ran for 2080 performances. Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day opened in 1978 for a two year run, before a host of musicals invaded the theatre in 1980, starting with The Biograph Girl by David Heneker and Warner Brown.
The theatre’s greatest success arrived in November 1991 in the form of Blood Brothers, Willy Russell’s musical. It ran for 21 years, finally closing on 10th November 2012.
The theatre is currently owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group.
The auditorium has three levels – Stalls, Dress Circle and Grand Circle.
The seats in the Stalls offer very good views of the stage, with a light rake in the seating helping seats further back. The Dress Circle obstructs the view from Row P onward.
The view from the Dress Circle is generally very good, though the rake of the seating is not as noticeable as in other theatres, so people may suffer if they happen to be sitting behind a particularly tall person! The overhang of the Upper Circle slight restricts the view from Row G onwards.
The Grand Circle is surprisingly close to the stage, which is great for feeling involved in the show, though the legroom at this level is not great.