The Phoenix Theatre opened in 1930 with the premiere of Noel Coward’s Private Lives featuring Coward himself in the cast, along with Gertrude Lawrence, Adrienne Allen and a young Laurence Olivier. Coward formed a strong association with The Phoenix returning with Gertrude Lawrence as his co-star in 1936 with the programme of the one-act play Tonight at 8.30. He returned again in 1952 with Quadrille, which opened only a few days after the death of Gertie Lawrence, and Coward wrote how difficult it was to sit through that first night in what he and Gertie had always referred to as ‘our theatre’.
The Phoenix enjoyed a succession of very successful plays including John Gielgud’s Love for Love during the war, and a season featuring Paul Scofield and Peter Brook in the mid fifties. A new musical Canterbury Tales adapted from Chaucer’s famous book opened in 1968 and began a 2000 performance run. The eighties and nineties have seen many award-winning musicals, including The Baker’s Wife by Stephen Schwarz (directed by Trevor Nunn) and the delightful Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim starring Julia McEnzie; as well as a very successful season of Shakespeare plays. Blood Brothers, a musical by Willy Russell, which transferred from the Albery in 1991 and ran till 2013, was the longest running show ever at the Phoenix.
Respecting the tradition of the Italian theatres, the auditorium shines with golden engraves, red seats, carpet and curtains. Above the boxes we can admire panels by Vladimir Polunin after Tintoretto, Titian and Giorgione, and the entire safety curtain is a rendition of Jacopo del Sellaio’s The Triumph Of Love. Also, throughout the building, we can enjoy the sculpted wooden doors and the decorated ceilings. It surely is one of the most beautiful theatres in London’s West End.