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The Phoenix Theatre, Upper Brown Street, Leicester

Later - Phoenix Arts Centre / Upper Brown Street Theatre / The Sue Townsend Theatre

Leicester Theatres

Upper Brown Street, the former Phoenix Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - Upper Brown Street, the former Phoenix Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt

A plan of the newly built Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt.After the demolition of Leicester's last professional Theatre the Royal Opera House in 1960, there was a cultural void for professional drama in the city. In 1963 Leicester City Council decided to fill this cultural gap by building the Phoenix Theatre on a central restricted site in Upper Brown Street.

The Phoenix was unusual at the time, being a standard steel framed warehouse type building, as a temporary solution until a more permanent Theatre could be established. It was a clever use of maximising space, being designed by the City Architects Department and built by M.J. Gleeson of Sheffield in 6 months.

Right - A plan of the newly built Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Theatre originally sat 274 people in one stepped tier, all having ample knee room and near perfect sight-lines. It had an open end stage 47 feet wide (14.3 metres) without a fly tower. The central stage projection was 32 feet deep (9.7 metres) with the side projections being 27 feet deep (8.2 metres). It also had an 18 foot diameter revolving stage fitted. Backstage featured two dressing rooms, toilet accommodation, and a small work and paint shop. Front of House there was a coffee bar. The building cost £29,180.00 including all furniture and fittings. Later an office block extension and refreshment facilities were added.

The auditorium of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt.The Phoenix opened on the 8th October 1963 with a production of 'The 'Matchmaker' by Thornton Wilder, starring Thelma Ruby and directed by Clive Perry. Early artistic directors were Clive Perry, and Michael Bogdanov, and early actors who were part of the company were Anthony Hopkins, and Richard Eyre, who later became director of the National Theatre in London.

Left - The auditorium of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt.

During the first season the Theatre played to an average capacity of 90 percent, presenting plays on a three or four weekly basis in response to the demand for seats.

Productions of note to play the Phoenix are 'Captain Christmas and the Evil Adults' (1982) written by Sue Townsend. 'The Hobbit' (1984) written by J.R.R.Tolkien adapted by Rony Robinson and Graham Watkins with original score by Stephanie Nunn. 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age Thirteen and three-quarters, Premier (1984) written by Sue Townsend. 'The Joe Orton Project (2007).

The auditorium of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester during the run of 'All In Good Time' - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt. The Phoenix existed as Leicester's Repertory Theatre until 1973, when the 'Haymarket Theatre' was built to supersede it. There was much local support for the Phoenix and it worked along side the 'Haymarket Theatre.'

Right - The auditorium of the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester during the run of 'All In Good Time' - From 'Tabs' magazine 1963 - Courtesy David Garratt.

In 1987 financial issues forced Leicester City Council to look into its future, and a decision was taken to close the Phoenix. However in 1988 Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) and Leicester City Council got together to re-open the Theatre, renaming it 'Phoenix Arts Centre.' It now ceased being a producing Theatre to become a venue for contemporary art, film, and live performance.

The Phoenix Arts Centre closed in 2009 to be replaced by 'Phoenix Square,' a cinema and film media centre situated in Leicester's Cultural Quarter. A campaign was launched to save the old Phoenix Arts Centre building from being sold off by the Council. The City Council then asked for bids from arts groups, the winner to be awarded a five year lease. However there was a clause made whereby no films, nor drama were to be presented, these now being catered for by 'Curve' Theatre and 'Phoenix Square.'

Four Programmes from past productions at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - 'Henry V' in May 1968, 'The Importance of Being Earnest in September 1964, 'The Shoemaker's Holiday' in September 1969, and 'Billy Liar' in January 1967.

Above - Four Programmes from past productions at the Phoenix Theatre, Leicester - 'Henry V' in May 1968, 'The Importance of Being Earnest in September 1964, 'The Shoemaker's Holiday' in September 1969, and 'Billy Liar' in January 1967.

On November 12th 2009 the winners were announced, being a group made up of Leicester College, and four local music promoters, together with Leicester Stride, being invited to play a part in the centre's future.

On March 6th 2010 the venue was renamed 'The Upper Brown Street Theatre' and began showing performances from Leicester College with students studying performing arts, music and sound courses, together with hosting shows and acts from external performers.

In May 2014 the Theatre was renamed 'The Sue Townsend Theatre' in memory of Sue Townsend, the Leicester writer famous for her Adrian Mole books, who died in April 2014. The author's talents were discovered at a writers club at the Phoenix Theatre in 1978 when she was in her early 30s so this is a very fitting honour.

You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article and its accompanying images, except the programmes, are © David Garratt 2011. The article was updated in September 2014 by M.L.

Upper Brown Street, the former Phoenix Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt

Above - Upper Brown Street, the former Phoenix Theatre, Leicester in 2011 - Courtesy David Garratt

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