While the elevation of this theatre which fronts onto Charing Cross Road, which is shared at street level with various shops and restaurants, looks rather drab, the interior with extensive use of mirrors, which was designed by the Russian director and designer Theodore Komisarjevsky, is wonderful.
When the theatre opened it was reported that: "In working out the scheme of interior architecture and decoration for the Phoenix Theare, Mr Komisarjevsky says that he chose the period of the Italian High Renaissance before the transition to the Baroque, as it seemed to be lighter, gayer, and more ornate than the earlier years, and therefore more suitable for a place of amusement. Most of the ideas he took from Raphael, Giulio Romano, Girolamo da Carpi, and Giovanni da Udine. He was not attracted alone by the lightness of their sculptural decorations, but also because they attached great importance to colour, which, above all else, gives life and intimate atmosphere to an interior. In fact, Mr Komisarjevsky confesses that he was not above 'stealing' certain details intact and unaltered, such as the coffered ceiling in the Phoenix Street hall and the columns in the Charing Cross Road entrance, the originals of which are in the Courtyard (built in 1538) of the Palazzo Boncompagni at Bologna."
In the 1970s the main entrance to the theatre was moved from Charing Cross Road to around the corner in Phoenix Street, while the Advance Box Office is actually half way between the two in Charing Cross Road - very confusing! In 1986 the adjacent car park, which had been a former bomb site, was used to build a cinema, but this has now been demolished to make way for a residential development.
This theatre is particularly associated with Noel Coward which started with the opening production which was the premiere of Coward's comedy Private Lives starring the playwright as 'Elyot' along with Gertrude Lawrence as 'Amanda', Laurence Olivier as 'Victor' and Adrienne Allen as 'Sybil'. The production lasted 3 months before it transferred to Broadway. Noel and Gertie then returned back here in 1936 with Coward's programme of nine one act plays which were presented under the heading of Tonight at 8.30. On Tuesday 16 December 1969 the theatre owners organised a special midnight matinee, titled A Talent To Amuse, in honour of Coward's 70th birthday and raise funds for the Combined Theatrical Charities. The performance, which was compered by Robert Morley and Richard Attenborough, featured over 100 stars performing various extracts from Coward's work for some four hours (!) That same month the foyer bar was renamed 'The Noel Coward Bar'.
Other notable productions staged here include the 1968 musical version of The Canterbury Tales which had a run of over 2,000 performances and Tom Stoppard's Night and Day which run for two years. In 1991 Willy Russell's musical Blood Brothers transferred here from The Albery Theatre and is now the longest running show ever at The Phoenix Theatre before it closed in November 2012.