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The Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2

Formerly - The Alcazar

The Main Entrance for the Phoenix Theatre during the run of 'Once' in June 2013 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Main Entrance for the Phoenix Theatre during the run of 'Once' in June 2013 - Photo M.L.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe 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.

 

Programme for 'The Limping Man' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1935.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'.

Right - A Programme for 'The Limping Man' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1935.

The second entrance to the Phoenix Theatre, on Phoenix Street from which the Theatre takes its name. - Photo M.L.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, which you can see in the picture at the top of this page, and the second (Shown Left) on Phoenix Street from which the Theatre takes its name.

Left - The second entrance to the Phoenix Theatre, on Phoenix Street from which the Theatre takes its name - Photo M.L.

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 Phoenix Theatre Box Office in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins. '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.

Right - The Phoenix Theatre Box Office in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins.

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.' - From The Stage 25th of September 1930, as reprinted in 'The Theatres of London' by Mander and Mitchenson.

 

The wonderfully elaborate Foyer of the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The wonderfully elaborate Foyer of the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The wonderfully elaborate Foyer Ceiling of the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The wonderfully elaborate Foyer Ceiling of the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Decorative Features at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - Decorative Features at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

A 1970s Seating Plan for the Phoenix Theatre

Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for the Phoenix Theatre

 

Noel CowardProgramme for 'To-Night at 8.30' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1936. After the success of the Phoenix Theatre's opening play, which had a three month contract but could have carried on 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 this the Theatre did not do so well and it became a Variety Theatre for a while but this also met with little success.

Noel Coward was back in 1936 though and the Theatre picked up considerably with his productions of one act plays called 'Tonight at 8.30' (See Programme Right and Noel Coward's own description below).

Right - A Programme for 'To-Night at 8.30' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1936. And Left - Noel Coward.

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.' More on this can be found on the Carlton Theatre page.

 

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...

 

One of the Phoenix Theatre's Corridors displaying past shows at the Theatre in a photograph taken in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - One of the Phoenix Theatre's Corridors displaying past shows at the Theatre in a photograph taken in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Decorative Features at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins Decorative Features at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - Decorative Features at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

The Dress Circle Entrance at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins The Entrance to the Plushy Phoenix Bar at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Above - The Dress Circle Entrance and the Entrance to the Plushy Phoenix Bar at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2010 - Courtesy Charles S. P. Jenkins

Noel Coward writing on 'Tonight at 8.30.'Gertrude Lawrence...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.

 

The Programme of Plays within the 'To-Night at 8.30' season - from a Programme for 'To-Night at 8.30' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1936. 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.'

Left - The Programme of Plays within the 'To-Night at 8.30' season - from a Programme for 'To-Night at 8.30' at the Phoenix Theatre in 1936.

The Text in quotes above 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.

A Programme for 'Judgment Day' by Elmer Rice at the Phoenix Theatre in 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.In 1938 the Theatre began showing Films instead of live theatre 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. A programme for this can be seen right, and a review of the production from the Daily Express can be seen below.

Right - A Programme for 'Judgment Day' by Elmer Rice at the Phoenix Theatre in 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd. In the large cast were Douglas Jefferies, George Woodbridge, Ireland Wood, W. E. Holloway, Charles Quartermaine, Arthur Young, Richard Carr, Olaf Olsen, William Hutchison, Albert Arlen, Michael Finlayson, Eric Berry, Jill Esmond, Peter Bull, Stephen Dolman, Hamilton Price, Anthony Verney, Basil C. Langton, George Dillon, David Keir, Neville Brook, Christopher Steele, Freda Jackson, Ailsa Graham, Glynis Johns, Michael Bridges, Philip Leaver, Laurier Lister, Jon Pertwee, Henderson Storie, Trevor Ward, and George Relph.

 

A review of 'Judgment Day' at the Phoenix Theatre, by John Grime of the Daily Express, in November 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.

Above - A review of 'Judgment Day' at the Phoenix Theatre, by John Grime of the Daily Express, in November 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.

In 1968 there was a major success at the Phoenix Theatre when 'Canterbury Tales' opened there in March and ran for over 2,000 performances, and of course more recently the production of 'Blood Brothers' which transferred to the Theatre from the Albery Theatre (Now the Noel Coward Theatre) in 1991 and ran right up to November 2012, 21 years in all.

The Phoenix Theatre is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group and you may like to visit their own Website for the Theatre here

The Main Entrance for the Phoenix Theatre during the run of 'Blood Brothers' in October 2006. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Main Entrance for the Phoenix Theatre during the run
of 'Blood Brothers' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

The Phoenix Theatre during the run of 'Blood Brothers' in October 2006. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Phoenix Theatre during the run of 'Blood Brothers' in October 2006.

 

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