West End theatre

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File:Palace Theatre - London.jpg
London's Historic Palace Theatre built in 1891

West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of "Theatreland" in and near the West End of London.<ref name="cgt">Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1194–1195, ISBN 0-521-43437-8</ref> Along with New York's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. Seeing a West End show is a common tourist activity in London.<ref name="cgt"/>

Total attendances first surpassed 12 million in 2002 and then 13 million in 2007, setting a new record for the West End. In 2013 ticket sales were 14,587,276. Since the late 1990s there has been an increase in the number of famous screen actors on the London stage.


Template:Further The Theatre in London flourished after the English Reformation. The first permanent public playhouse, known simply as The Theatre, was constructed in 1576 in Shoreditch by James Burbage. It was soon joined by The Curtain. Both are known to have been used by William Shakespeare's company. In 1599, the timber from The Theatre was moved to Southwark, where it was used in building the Globe Theatre in a new theatre district formed, beyond the controls of the City corporation. These theatres were closed in 1642 due to the Puritans who would later influence the interregnum of 1649. Template:Further After the Restoration (1660), two companies were licensed to perform, the Duke's Company and the King's Company. Performances were held in converted buildings, such as Lisle's Tennis Court. The first West End theatre, known as Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, was designed by Thomas Killigrew and built on the site of the present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It opened on 7 May 1663 and was destroyed by a fire nine years later. It was replaced by a new structure designed by Christopher Wren and renamed the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.<ref name=TO>Template:Cite web</ref>

Outside the West End, Sadler's Wells Theatre opened in Islington on 3 June 1683. Taking its name from founder Richard Sadler and monastic springs that were discovered on the property, it operated as a "Musick House", with performances of opera; as it was not licensed for plays. In the West End, the Haymarket Theatre opened on 29 December 1720 on a site slightly north of its current location, and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden opened in Covent Garden on 7 December 1732.

The Patent theatre companies retained their duopoly on drama well into the 19th century, and all other theatres could perform only musical entertainments. By the early 19th century, however, music hall entertainments became popular, and presenters found a loophole in the restrictions on non-patent theatres in the genre of melodrama. Melodrama did not break the Patent Acts, as it was accompanied by music. Initially, these entertainments were presented in large halls, attached to public houses, but purpose-built theatres began to in the East End at Shoreditch and Whitechapel.

The West End theatre district became established with the opening of many small theatres and halls, including the Adelphi in The Strand on 17 November 1806. South of the River Thames, the Old Vic, Waterloo Road, opened on 11 May 1818. The expansion of the West End theatre district gained pace with the Theatres Act 1843; which relaxed the conditions for the performance of plays, and The Strand gained another venue when the Vaudeville opened on 16 April 1870. The next few decades saw the opening of many new theatres in the West End. The Criterion Theatre opened on Piccadilly Circus on 21 March 1874, and in 1881, two more houses appeared: the Savoy Theatre in The Strand, built by Richard D'Oyly Carte specifically to showcase the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, opened on 10 October (the first theatre to be lit by cooler, cleaner electric lights), and five days later the Comedy Theatre opened as the Royal Comedy Theatre on Panton Street in Leicester Square. It abbreviated its name three years later.<ref name=TO /> The theatre building boom continued until about World War I.

The London Opera Glass Company was founded in 1913 and has provided opera glasses for many West End theatres.<ref name="lion-lion">Template:Cite web</ref>

During the 1950s and 1960s, many plays were produced in theatre clubs, in order to evade the censorship then exercised by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. The Theatres Act 1968 finally abolished censorship of the stage in the United Kingdom.


thumb, home to Disney's The Lion King.<ref name="lion-lion" />]] "Theatreland", London's main theatre district, contains approximately forty venues and is located in and near the heart of the West End of central London. It is traditionally defined by The Strand to the south, Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west, and Kingsway to the east, but a few other nearby theaters are also considered "West End" despite being outside the area proper (e.g. The Apollo Victoria Theatre, in Westminster). Prominent theatre streets include Drury Lane, Shaftesbury Avenue, and The Strand. The works staged are predominantly musicals, classic or middle-brow plays, and comedy performances.

Many theatres in the West End are of late Victorian or Edwardian construction and are privately owned. The majority of them have great character, and the largest and best maintained feature grand neo-classical, Romanesque, or Victorian façades and luxurious, detailed interior design and decoration. On the other hand, leg room is often cramped, and audience facilities such as bars and toilets are often much smaller than in modern theatres. The protected status of the buildings and their confined urban locations, combined with financial constraints, make it very difficult to make substantial improvements to the level of comfort offered. In 2003, the Theatres Trust estimated that an investment of £250 million over the following 15 years was required for modernisation, and stated that 60% of theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible. The theatre owners unsuccessfully requested tax concessions to help them meet the costs. Several incidents followed from 2004 onwards of falling plasterwork or performances being cancelled because of urgent building repairs being required culminating in the partial collapse of the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre in December 2013. Of these earlier incidents, only one led to people being hurt, but at the Apollo Theatre 76 people needed medical treatment for their injuries.

In 2012 Gross sales of £529,787,692 were up 0.27% and attendances also increased 0.56% to 13,992,773 year-on-year In 2013, sales again rose this time by 11% to £585,506,455, with attendances rising to 14,587,276. This was despite slightly less performances occurring in 2013.

Long-running shows

Template:Main The length of West End shows depend on ticket sales. Musicals tend to have longer runs than dramas. The longest-running musical in West End history is Les Misérables. It overtook Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, which closed in 2002 after running for 8,949 performances and 21 years, as the longest-running West End musical of all time on 8 October 2006. Other long-runners include Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera and Willy Russell's Blood Brothers which have also subsequently overtaken Cats. However the non-musical Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap is the longest-running production in the world, and has been performed continuously since 1952. thumb, the longest-running play in the world.]]

  • The Mousetrap – opened 25 November 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre, now playing at the St Martin's Theatre – 61st year
  • Les Misérables – opened 8 October 1985 at the Palace Theatre, now playing at the Queen's Theatre – 28th year
  • The Phantom of the Opera – opened 9 October 1986 at Her Majesty's Theatre – 27th year
  • The Woman in Black – opened 15 February 1989 at the Strand Theatre, later moving to the Fortune Theatre opening on the 7 June 1989 – 25th year
  • Blood Brothers – opened 27 August 1988 at the Albery Theatre, later transferring to the Phoenix Theatre and closed on 10 November 2012 – 24 years
  • Cats – opened 11 May 1981 at the New London Theatre and closed 11 May 2002 on its 21st anniversary
  • Starlight Express – opened 27 March 1984 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and closed 12 January 2002<ref name=longruns>Template:Cite web</ref> – 17 years
  • No Sex Please, We're British – opened 3 June 1971 at the Strand Theatre and closed 16 January 1987<ref name=longruns /> – 16 years
  • Chicago – opened 18 November 1997 at the Adelphi Theatre, transferring later to the Cambridge Theatre and the Garrick Theatre and closed 1 September 2012 – 15 years
  • Mamma Mia! – opened 6 April 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre, moving later to the Prince of Wales Theatre and now at the Novello Theatre – 14th year
  • The Lion King – opened 19 October 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre – 14th year
  • Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story – opened 12 October 1989 at the Victoria Palace Theatre, transferred to the Strand Theatre in October 1995 and closed 19 May 2002<ref name=longruns /> – 12 years
  • We Will Rock You – opened 14 May 2002 at the Dominion Theatre – 11th year
  • Stomp – opened 25 September 2002 at the Vaudeville Theatre, later transferring to the Ambassadors Theatre opening on 27 September 2007 – 11th year
  • The Black and White Minstrel Show – opened in 1962 at the Victoria Palace Theatre and closed about 1972<ref name=longruns /> – 10 years
  • Miss Saigon – opened 20 September 1989 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and closed 30 October 1999<ref name=longruns /> – 10 years
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – opened March 7, 1996 at the Criterion Theater and closed on April 3, 2005 – 9 years
  • Jesus Christ Superstar – opened 9 August 1972 at the Palace Theatre and closed about 1980<ref name=longruns /> – 8 years
  • Me and My Girl (revival) – opened 12 February 1985 at the Adelphi Theatre and closed 16 January 1993<ref name=longruns /> – 8 years
  • Billy Elliot the Musical – opened 11 May 2005 at the Victoria Palace Theatre – 8th year
  • Evita – opened 21 January 1978 at the Prince Edward Theatre and closed on 8 February 1986<ref name=longruns /> – 7 years
  • The 39 Steps – opened 20 September 2006 at the Criterion Theatre – 7th year
  • Wicked – opened 27 September 2006 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre – 7th year
  • There's a Girl in My Soup – opened June 1966 at the Globe Theatre. Closed in 1973 after over a thousand performances – 6½ years
  • Oliver! – opened 30 June 1960 at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) and closed about 1966<ref name=longruns /> – 6 years
  • Jersey Boys – opened 18 March 2008 at the Prince Edward Theatre, will transfer to the Piccadilly Theatre on 14 March 2014 – 5th year
  • Thriller – Live – opened 21 January 2009 at the Lyric Theatre – 5th year

List of West End theatres

  • If no show is currently running, the play listed is the next show planned (dates marked with an *)
  • If the next show planned is not announced, the applicable columns are left blank
Theatre Owner Current production Classification Capacity Opening
Adelphi Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group The Bodyguard Musical 1500 2012-12-055 December 2012 Open-ended
Aldwych Theatre Nederlander Organization Stephen Ward the Musical<ref name="Ward">Template:Cite web</ref> Musical 1176 2013-12-1919 December 2013 2014-03-2929 March 2014
Ambassadors Theatre Stephen Waley-Cohen<ref name="Cohen">Template:Cite web</ref> Stomp Physical Theatre 450 2007-10-044 October 2007 Open-ended
Apollo Theatre Nimax Theatres Let the Right One In Play 775 2014-04-077 April 2014* 2014-09-2727 September 2014
Apollo Victoria Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Wicked Musical 2500 2006-09-2727 September 2006 Open-ended
Arts Theatre JJ Goodman Ltd. Ghost Stories Play 350 2014-02-2727 February 2014 Open-ended
Cambridge Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group Matilda the Musical Musical 1283 2011-11-2424 November 2011 Open-ended
Criterion Theatre Criterion Theatre Trust The 39 Steps Play 591 2006-09-2020 September 2006 Open-ended
Dominion Theatre Nederlander Organization We Will Rock You Musical 2001 2002-05-1414 May 2002 Open-ended
Duchess Theatre Nimax Theatres Tell Me on a Sunday Musical 494 2014-02-1818 February 2014 2014-03-088 March 2014
Duke of York's Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense Play 650 2013-11-1212 November 2013 Open-ended
Fortune Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group The Woman in Black Play 440 1989-06-077 June 1989 Open-ended
Garrick Theatre Nimax Theatres Twelve Angry Men Play 718 2013-11-1111 November 2013 2014-03-1515 March 2014
Gielgud Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Blithe Spirit Play 889 2014-03-1818 March 2014* 2014-06-077 June 2014
Harold Pinter Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Being Shakespeare Play 796 2014-02-2626 February 2014 2014-03-1515 March 2014
Her Majesty's Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group The Phantom of the Opera Musical 1161 1986-10-099 October 1986 Open-ended
London Palladium Really Useful Theatres Group I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical Musical 2302 2014-03-2626 March 2014* Open-ended
Lyceum Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group The Lion King Musical 2100 1999-10-1919 October 1999 Open-ended
Lyric Theatre Nimax Theatres Thriller – Live Musical 915 2009-01-2121 January 2009 Open-ended
New London Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group War Horse Play 1108 2009-04-033 April 2009 Open-ended
Noël Coward Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Full Monty Play 872 2014-02-2525 February 2014 2014-06-1414 June 2014
Novello Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mamma Mia! Musical 1143 2012-09-066 September 2012 Open-ended
Palace Theatre Nimax Theatres The Commitments Musical 1400 2013-10-088 October 2013 Open-ended
Phoenix Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Once Musical 1000 2013-04-099 April 2013 Open-ended
Piccadilly Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Jersey Boys Musical 1200 2013-07-1315 March 2014* Open-ended
Playhouse Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Monty Python's Spamalot Musical 786 2012-11-2020 November 2012 Open-ended
Prince Edward Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Jersey Boys Musical 1618 2008-03-1818 March 2008 2014-03-099 March 2014
Prince of Wales Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Book of Mormon Musical 1160 2013-03-2121 March 2013 Open-ended
Queen's Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Les Misérables Musical 1099 2004-04-1212 April 2004 Open-ended
Savoy Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Musical 1158 2014-04-011 April 2014* Open-ended
Shaftesbury Theatre The Theatre of Comedy Company From Here to Eternity the Musical Musical 1400 2013-10-2323 October 2013 2014-03-2929 March 2014
St. James Theatre Entertainment & Media Group Urinetown Musical 312 2014-03-1111 March 2014* 2014-05-033 May 2014
St Martin's Theatre Stephen Waley-Cohen<ref name = "Cohen"/> The Mousetrap Play 550 1974-03-2525 March 1974 Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Haymarket Crown Estate Fatal Attraction Play 888 2014-03-2525 March 2014* 2014-06-2121 June 2014
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Really Useful Theatres Group Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical Musical 2220 2013-06-2525 June 2013 Open-ended
Trafalgar Studios 1 Ambassador Theatre Group Ghosts Play 380 2013-12-1717 December 2013 2014-03-2222 March 2014
Trafalgar Studios 2 Ambassador Theatre Group The Act Cabaret-Style 100 2014-02-2828 February 2014 2014-03-2929 March 2014
Vaudeville Theatre Nimax Theatres The Duck House Play 681 2013-12-1010 December 2013 2014-03-2929 March 2014
Victoria Palace Theatre Stephen Waley-Cohen<ref name = "Cohen"/> Billy Elliot the Musical Musical 1517 2005-05-1111 May 2005 Open-ended
Wyndham's Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Weir Play 750 2014-01-2121 January 2014 2014-04-1919 April 2014

Upcoming productions


  • Cool Rider, Duchess Theatre
  • Made in Dagenham, Adelphi Theatre
  • Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre
  • Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre
  • The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury Theatre


  • Another Country, Trafalgar Studios 1
  • Bakersfield Mist, Duchess Theatre
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Gielgud Theatre
  • Handbagged, Vaudeville Theatre
  • I Found My Horn, Trafalgar Studios 2
  • Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre
  • Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre
  • Skylight, Wyndham's Theatre
  • Uncle Vanya/Three Sisters, Wyndham's Theatre

London's non-commercial theatres

thumb The term West End Theatre is generally used to refer specifically to commercial productions in Theatreland. However the leading non-commercial theatres in London, including the Royal National Theatre, the Barbican Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, the Globe Theatre, the Old Vic, the Young Vic, the Hampstead Theatre, the Almeida Theatre, and the Open Air Theatre, are located outside Theatreland, and enjoy great artistic prestige. These theatres stage a high proportion of straight drama, Shakespeare, other classic plays and premieres of new plays by leading playwrights. Successful productions from the non-commercial theatres sometimes transfer to one of the commercial Theatreland houses for an extended run.

The Royal Opera House is widely regarded as one of the greatest opera houses in the world, comparable with the Palais Garnier, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera House. Commonly known simply as Covent Garden due to its location, it is unique among West End venues in many ways, not least in having three resident performance companies, the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and a resident symphony orchestra. It has three performance spaces (the Main Auditorium, Linbury Theatre and Clore Studio) and hosts guest performances from other leading opera, ballet and performance companies from around the world.

Likewise, the London Coliseum is the resident home to the English National Opera. The theatre is also the London base for performances by the English National Ballet, who perform regular seasons throughout the year when not on tour.

The Peacock Theatre is also located in the Theatreland area. Now owned by the London School of Economics and Political Science, it is sometimes used for dance performances by Sadler's Wells, who manage the theatre on behalf of the school.

Other London theatre

There are a great number of theatre productions in London outside the West End. Much of this is known as fringe theatre which is the equivalent of Off Broadway Theatre in New York. Among these are the Bush Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse. Fringe venues range from well-equipped small theatres to rooms above pubs, and the performances range from classic plays, to cabaret, to plays in the languages of London's ethnic minorities. The performers range from emerging young professionals to amateurs.

There are many theatres located throughout Greater London, such as the Lyric Hammersmith, Rose Theatre, Kingston, New Wimbledon Theatre, the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, and the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.


There are a number of annual awards for outstanding achievements in London theatre:

  • Laurence Olivier Awards
  • Evening Standard Awards
  • WhatsOnStage Awards
  • London Critics' Circle Theatre Awards
  • National Dance Awards
  • West End Cares Awards
  • West End Frame Awards

See also


  • Culture of London
  • List of London venues
  • List of West End musicals
  • List of notable musical theatre productions
  • Musical theatre
  • Great West End Theatres
  • List of former theatres in London



External links

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