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Phoenix Theatre

  • Theatre
  • Charing Cross Road

Time Out says

This plushy theatre plays host to some of the West End's biggest musicals

Phoenix Theatre made an auspicious West End debut in 1930, when it opened its doors with Noël Coward's 'Private Lives', with a cast including Gertrude Lawrence and a young Laurence Olivier. From the outside, it doesn't look like much. But step beyond its austere neoclassical facade and you'll discover one of the West End's most ambitious and showiest interiors, boasting endless Italianate gilt flourishes, a spectacular mirrored ceiling, paintings inspired by greats such as Tinteretto and Titian, and room for over 1000 audience members. In its early years, the Phoenix kept up its link with Coward, staging his collection of short plays 'Tonight at 8.30' (which included the drama that inspired 'Brief Encounter') - a link that's commemorated by the venue's Noël Coward bar.

It went on to stage a mix of highbrow dramas and musicals before committing to the latter genre in 1968, when it regaled audiences with a hugely successful (but now almost completely forgotten) musical version of 'The Canterbury Tales'. This medieval extravaganza launched just after the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of London theatres came to an end, and crowds were so delighted by its bawdy themes that it ran for 2,080 performances. But an even bigger success came when Willy Russell's long-running musical 'Blood Brothers' took up residency in 1991, and ran for nearly two decades with a bloody, moving epic of Liverpool gangs. Since ‘Blood Brothers’ left in 2012 the Phoenix Theatre has hosted a pretty eclectic range of shows, including 'Once', 'Bend it Like Beckham', 'Chicago' and 'The Girls', with a definite musical theatre bias. Its latest show is Broadway import 'Come From Away', which comes to the West End on a tidal wave of hype. 


Charing Cross Road
Tube: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road
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What’s on

Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image the Musical

  • Comedy

The puppet domination of the West End continues apace with the arrival of this official ‘Spitting Image’ musical, which enjoyed a successful run at the Birmingham Rep earlier this year. Those who grew up in the ’80s will fondly remember the puppet-propelled political satire’s glory days – and subscribers to BritBox may also be aware of its recent reincarnation, which clearly isn’t the zeitgeist-chomping behemoth of yore, but does still raise the odd chuckle. ‘Idiots Assemble’ is very much brand new material – no trundling out of the ‘vegetables’ sketch – and features the contemporary (if not exactly youthful or diverse) trio of Al Murray, Matt Forde and the play’s director Sean Foley penning skits and songs that centre on Tom Cruise, who is tasked by King Charles to assemble a crack team of do-gooders (Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle et al) to take on ‘a cabal of dark forces’. Reviews for the jokes were mixed, but praise was unanimous for the world-class puppetry: even if it doesn’t scale the show’s glory days it ought to be a fun night out. 

Stranger Things: The First Shadow

  • Drama

The West End has played host to a Harry Potter sequel for years now – so why not a ‘Stranger Things’ prequel, eh? And indeed, there’s a link between ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and ‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’: playwright Jack Thorne, a skilled stage adaptor who wrote the former and helped come up with the story to the Stephen Daldry-directed ‘The First Shadow’ alongside the Duffer Brothers – maestros behind the Netflix retro horror smash – and Kate Trefry, a writer on the show who has also written the script here.  There are a lot of balls in the air, basically, but a stage play is a gutsy move and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work with a team like this behind it. The play, then, is a return to the show’s setting of Hawkins, Indiana, but in 1959 (as opposed to the ’80s). That means we can see some familiar faces in their youths: expect to meet teen versions of Jim Hopper, Bob Newby and Joyce Byers, plus – most intriguingly – Henry Creel, the psychic teen who goes on to become the show’s terrifying antagonist Vecna. His story has already been somewhat told in flashback, so it'll be intriguing to see whether he’s the focal point of ‘The First Shadow’ or if the titular shadow is someone – or something – else. Tickets go on sale March 30.

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