Sue Townsend Theatre
The building in 2009
|Former names||Phoenix Theatre |
Upper Brown Street Theatre
|Sue Townsend Theatre|
Sue Townsend Theatre (formerly the Phoenix Theatre, Phoenix Arts Centre and Upper Brown Street Theatre) is a theatre in the city of Leicester, England. The centre hosted live shows and films of the arthouse and world cinema genres. It would have been flattened years ago if not for the work of Julian Wright in the 1980s and again, upon his return from abroad in the 2000s. In 2010, after a new Phoenix Square opened on the other side of the city centre, it became the Upper Brown Street Theatre, a music training and performance venue. It has since been re-branded as Sue Townsend Theatre, in honour of the late Leicester author and playwright, Sue Townsend.
In 1963 Leicester City Council (LCC), identifying a gap in cultural provision for live performances, built a 262-seat theatre in Leicester. The Phoenix Theatre was intended to be a temporary solution until a more permanent theatre could be established.
Directors included Clive Perry, Michael Bogdanov, Chris Martin, Ian Giles, Sue Pomeroy, Graham Watkins, Paul Wetherby and Adrian Bean, and actors such as Richard Eyre, Nigel Bennett, Roberta Kerr, Heather Sears, Perry Cree, Anthony Hopkins and Greta Scacci have all performed in the venue. Its artistic philosophy was to be a theatre for the Leicester community, not only presenting "in house" productions but also touring Leicestershire with dance and small-scale theatre productions. Notable in the touring work were productions about the travelling community and about substance abuse. At its greatest strength in the early 1980s, employing around 80 people, the company consisted of a main acting troupe, a touring company called "Flying Phoenix", and a touring dance company, "Phoenix Dance". It developed new writers, notably Sue Townsend, and premiered many productions that went on to national acclaim in the 1980s, such as "The Hobbit" and "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole". During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the theatre also played host to annual revues performed by the Leicester University Revue & Theatre Society (R.A.T.S.), featuring such cult comedy performers as Nick "Tubby" Griffiths.
In 1973 a permanent theatre called the Haymarket Theatre (Leicester) was built. Continuing support for the Phoenix Theatre ensured that it remained functional. It was renamed the Phoenix Arts Centre and functioned alongside the Haymarket until 1987. At this time financial issues forced the LCC to reconsider the position of the Phoenix Arts Centre, but a decision for closure was averted in 1988 by support from Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) and the LCC, and whilst the Phoenix stopped being a producing theatre, it continued as a venue for contemporary art, film and live performances.
The Phoenix was due to close in the summer of 2009 and be replaced by a new building, Phoenix Square, in the Cultural Quarter of the city. However, local musician Julian Wright campaigned successfully in stopping Leicester City Council from selling the site. In June 2009, the Council asked for bids from arts groups for a five-year lease. Under the terms of the lease the showing of films and professional theatre productions would not be permitted, as they might compete with Phoenix Square and Leicester's new Curve Theatre respectively. The winning bid, announced on 12 November, was made by a group comprising Leicester College and four local music promoters. Social enterprise organisation Leicester Stride, a major element in one of the other bids, has been invited to play a part in the centre's future.
On 6 March 2010, the Leicester Mercury announced that the centre had been renamed the Upper Brown Street campus of Leicester College. Leicester property developer Norman Gill gave £25,000 towards the refurbishment through the Norman Gill Charitable Trust.
The theatre re-opened in 2010. As well as performances from Leicester College learners on Performing Arts and Music and Sound courses, the Upper Brown Street venue hosts shows and acts from external performers.
In 2011, Upper Brown Street saw its first full-scale musical production, Hairspray. The production was created by Leicester College students from all courses. Prior to this, first year students performed Stephen Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum".
In 2015, the theatre was once again re-branded as the Sue Townsend Theatre, which coincided with the opening of Curve's production of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. In honour of the late playwright, students produced a version of Womberang.
Past productions, events and shows
- Opening production, 1963, The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, directed by Clive Perry.
- "Waiting for Godot" with Kenneth Colley.
- "Caucasian Chalk Circle" and Richard III with Bill Wallis.
“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” by Bertold Brecht...1976? “Lucy in the Sky”...performed in a circus tent in the theatre car park...1977 - The theatre troupe took circus training lessons and performed circus routines as part of the play. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn4NUa41RpE
- No More Sitting on the Old School Bench (1979), written by Alan Bleasdale
- Killer on the Dance Floor (1980), written by Sue Townsend and Rod Thompson
- Little Brother, Little Sister (1981), written by David Campton
- The Ghost of Daniel Lambert (1981), written by Sue Townsend
- Captain Christmas and the Evil Adults (1982), written by Sue Townsend
- "Mother Goose" and "Dancing Dan" by Paul Wetherby (1983);
- The Hobbit (1984), written by J.R.R. Tolkien, adapted by Rony Robinson and Graham Watkins. Original score by Stephanie Nunn.
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1984), written by Sue Townsend
- The Joe Orton Project, (2007)
Upper Brown Street Theatre
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2010)
- Hairspray: The Musical (2011)
- Lord of The Flies (2011)
- The Misanthrope (2011)
- My Fair Lady (2011)
- Ten Voices – Musical Cabaret (2011)
- Musical Stages (2012)
- Beauty and the Beast: The Musical (2012)
Sue Townsend Theatre
- Womberang (2015)
- Curtain Call (2016)
- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2017)
From the late 1970s, local letterpress printer Toni Savage, of The New Broom Press, took to distributing 8"×5" broadsheets through the theatre, and other channels. These were distributed freely rather than sold and published a vast range of writers, local, obscure and sometimes well-known. Over 400 were printed into the 1990s and they are collected today. These broadsheets were later catalogued, itself a limited edition of 200 copies by a small press craft printer.