When it opened in March 1958, the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, was the first new professional theatre to be constructed in Britain for nearly two decades and the country’s first all-new civic theatre (Figs 1 and 2). Financially supported by Coventry City Council and designed in the City Architect’s office, it included a 910-seat auditorium with associated backstage facilities. Two features of the building were especially innovative, namely its extensive public foyers and the provision of a number of small flats for actors. The theatre, whose name commemorated a major gift of timber to the city of Coventry from the Yugoslav authorities, was regarded as the herald of a new age and indeed marked the beginning of a boom in British theatre construction which lasted until the late 1970s. Yet its architecture has hitherto been little considered by historians of theatre, while accounts of post-war Coventry have instead focused on other topics: the city’s politics; its replanning after severe wartime bombing; and the architecture of its new cathedral, designed by Basil Spence in 1950 and executed amidst international interest as a symbol of the city’s post-war recovery. However, the Belgrade also attracted considerable attention when it opened. The Observer’s drama critic, Kenneth Tynan, was especially effusive, asking ‘in what tranced moment did the City Council decided to spend £220,000 on a bauble as superfluous as a civic playhouse?’ For him, it was ‘one of the great decisions in the history of local government’. This article considers the architectural implications of that ‘great decision’. The main design moves are charted and related to the local context, in which the Belgrade was intended to function as a civic and community focus. In this respect, the Labour Party councillors’ wish to become involved in housing the arts reflected prevailing local and national party philosophy but was possibly amplified by knowledge of eastern European authorities’ involvement in accommodating and subsidizing theatre. In addition, close examination of the Belgrade’s external design, foyers and auditorium illuminates a number of broader debates in the architectural history of the period. The auditorium, for example, reveals something of the extent to which Modern architecture could be informed by precedent. Furthermore, the terms in which the building was received are also significant. Tynan commented: ‘enter most theatres, and you enter the gilded cupidacious past. Enter this one, and you are surrounded by the future’. Although it was perhaps inevitable that the Belgrade was thought to be unlike older theatres, given that there had been a two-decade hiatus in theatre-building, the resulting contrast was nonetheless rather appropriate, allowing the building to connote new ideas whilst also permitting us to read the Belgrade in terms of contemporary debates about the nature of the ‘modern monument’.