Sue Townsend Theatre is celebrating 60 years as a major Leicester venue in October 2023. The venue, located on Upper Brown Street in Leicester, was opened in 1963 as the Phoenix Theatre, before becoming the home of Leicester College´s Performing Arts and Music Department in 2010.
In March 2015, it was renamed Sue Townsend Theatre in recognition of the city´s famous author and playwright and her connection with the Phoenix. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Sue was the Phoenix’s writer in residence and in 1984, ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾’ play was premiered there, based on her renowned book of the same name.
The theatre has a rich history in the performing arts and a stellar cast of leading British actors and actresses having performed at the theatre. Famous people associated with the Phoenix include Sir Anthony Hopkins, Richard Briers, Tony Robinson, Miriam Margolyes and Greta Scacchi.
Sue Townsend Theatre is now a teaching venue for Leicester College, home to the College’s performing arts, and music and sound technology teams. For more information on the courses available for students using Sue Townsend Theatre, click here.
It is also regularly used as a performance venue by local and national arts, music, theatre and dance companies. To hire the venue, click here.
Built by the Council with a life expectancy of just 10 years, the Phoenix Theatre was designed to help revive professional theatre in Leicester after its last commercial theatre closed in 1960. The Phoenix presented in-house productions and small-scale touring shows around the county.
The Phoenix stopped producing plays in 1988. It changed its name to the Phoenix Arts Centre, and hosted film and performances until its relocation to Leicester’s Cultural Quarter in 2009.
Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “The Phoenix Theatre as it was, was built by the city council with a life expectancy of ten years and was only ever intended to be stop-gap while the Haymarket Theatre was constructed.
“I’m pleased to say that it has remained an important part of the city’s cultural scene over the last 60 years, and am delighted that it is now providing a valuable resource to the students and teachers of Leicester College and still hosting performances all these years later.”
Julie Lawrence worked at Phoenix Arts in the 1980s and now works as Events Programming Manager at Sue Townsend Theatre. Commenting on her time at the theatre, Julie said: “The venue is a very special place. Many people in the city and beyond have fond memories of the times they have spent here over the years. We often have past employees, performers and audience members calling by to look at the theatre and tell us about their connection to it.
“I first started at the venue as an usher and later took on other roles during the 1980s, returning in 2011 to take on my current job. I’ve worked in the building while it has been called – Phoenix Theatre, Phoenix Arts, Upper Brown Street and now Sue Townsend Theatre.”