West End theatre

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The Palace Theatre, in the City of Westminster, London, built in 1891 Palace Theatre - London.jpg
The Palace Theatre, in the City of Westminster, London, built in 1891
The London Palladium in Soho opened in 1910. While the Theatre has a resident show, it also has one off performances such as concerts. Since 1930 it has hosted the Royal Variety Performance 43 times. London 2745.JPG
The London Palladium in Soho opened in 1910. While the Theatre has a resident show, it also has one off performances such as concerts. Since 1930 it has hosted the Royal Variety Performance 43 times.

West End theatre is mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres in and near the West End of London. [1] Along with New York City'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. [1]


There are a total of 39 theatres in the West End, with the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, opened in May 1663, the oldest theatre in London. [2] The Savoy Theatre – built as a showcase for the popular series of comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan – was entirely lit by electricity in 1881. [3]

Society of London Theatre (SOLT) announced that 2018 was a record year for the capital's theatre industry with attendances topping 15.5m for the first time since the organization began collecting audience data in 1986. Box office revenues exceeded £765m. [4] While attendance in 2019 was down 1.4% compared to the previous year, box office revenues reached a record £799m. [5] Famous screen actors, British and international alike, frequently appear on the London stage. [6]


Theatre in London flourished after the English Reformation. The first permanent public playhouse, known 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. [7]

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Opened in May 1663, it is the oldest theatre in London. Theatre Royal 20130408 023.JPG
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Opened in May 1663, it is the oldest theatre in London.

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. [8] [9]

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, [10] [11] it operated as a "Musick House", with performances of opera; as it was not licensed for plays. In the West End, the Theatre Royal Haymarket opened on 29 December 1720 on a site slightly north of its current location, and the Royal Opera House opened in Covent Garden on 7 December 1732. [12]

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 appear in the East End at Shoreditch and Whitechapel.

Original interior of Savoy Theatre in 1881, the year it became the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. Savoy pre-1920.JPG
Original interior of Savoy Theatre in 1881, the year it became the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity.

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. [9] Opened in 1903, the New Theatre was renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006 in honour of the playwright Noël Coward. The theatre building boom continued until about the First World War.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many plays were produced in theatre clubs, 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.


The Lyceum Theatre, home to Disney's The Lion King. Lyceum Theatre 1.jpg
The Lyceum Theatre, home to Disney's The Lion King .

"Theatreland", London's main theatre district, contains approximately forty venues and is located in and near the heart of the West End of 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 theatres 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 and modern straight plays, and comedy performances. [15]

Many theatres in the West End are of late Victorian or Edwardian construction and are privately owned. Many are architecturally impressive, and the largest and best maintained feature grand neo-classical, Romanesque, or Victorian façades and luxurious, detailed interior design and decoration.

Queen's Theatre showing Les Miserables, running in London since October 1985 Queen's Theatre at Night.jpg
Queen's Theatre showing Les Misérables , running in London since October 1985

However, owing to the age of the buildings, 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, [16] and stated that 60% of theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible. [17] The theatre owners unsuccessfully requested tax concessions to help them meet the costs.

The restored facade of the Dominion Theatre, as seen in 2017 The Bodyguard musical at Dominion Theatre.jpg
The restored facade of the Dominion Theatre, as seen in 2017

From 2004 onwards there were several incidents of falling plasterwork, or performances being cancelled because of urgent building repairs being required. These events culminated in the partial collapse of the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre in December 2013. [18] Of these earlier incidents, only one led to people being hurt, [19] but at the Apollo Theatre 76 people needed medical treatment for their injuries. [20] The refurbishment of the Dominion Theatre was completed in 2017 with the unveiling of a new double-sided LED screen, the largest and highest resolution projecting screen on the exterior of a West End theatre. [21]

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 [22] In 2013, sales again rose this time by 11% to £585,506,455, [23] with attendances rising to 14,587,276. [24] This was despite slightly fewer performances occurring in 2013. [25]

On 16 March 2020, following government advice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all theatres in the West End were closed until further notice. [26]

Long-running shows

The St Martin's Theatre, home to The Mousetrap, the world's longest-running play. StMartins theatre London2.jpg
The St Martin's Theatre, home to The Mousetrap , the world's longest-running play.

The length of West End shows depend on ticket sales. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, the longest-running musical in West End history is Les Misérables , which has been running in London since October 1985. 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 9 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. [27]

List of West End theatres

TheatreAddressCapacityOwner/OperatorCurrent productionClassificationOpening
Adelphi Theatre Strand1436 LW Theatres / Nederlander Organization
Aldwych Theatre Aldwych1176 Nederlander Organization Tina—The Tina Turner Musical Musical17 April 2018Open-ended
Ambassadors Theatre West Street444 Ambassador Theatre Group
Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue775 Nimax Theatres Everybody's Talking About Jamie Musical22 November 2017Open-ended
Apollo Victoria Theatre Wilton Road2384 Ambassador Theatre Group Wicked Musical27 September 2006Open-ended
Arts Theatre Great Newport Street350JJ Goodman Ltd. Six Musical29 January 2019Open-ended
Cambridge Theatre Earlham Street1283 LW Theatres Matilda the Musical Musical24 November 2011Open-ended
Criterion Theatre Jermyn Street593Criterion Theatre Trust
Dominion Theatre Tottenham Court Road2069 Nederlander Organization The Prince of Egypt [28] Musical25 February 2020Open-ended
Duchess Theatre Catherine Street494 Nimax Theatres The Play That Goes Wrong Play14 September 2014Open-ended
Duke of York's Theatre St. Martin's Lane650 Ambassador Theatre Group
Fortune Theatre Russell Street432 Ambassador Theatre Group The Woman in Black Play7 June 1989Open-ended
Garrick Theatre Charing Cross Road718 Nimax Theatres
Gielgud Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue986 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres To Kill a Mockingbird PlayMay 2021*Open-ended
Gillian Lynne Theatre Drury Lane1108 LW Theatres Cinderella [29] Musical7 April 2021*Open-ended
Harold Pinter Theatre Panton Street796 Ambassador Theatre Group
Her Majesty's Theatre Haymarket1160 LW Theatres The Phantom of the Opera Musical9 October 1986Open-ended
London Palladium Argyll Street2286 LW Theatres
Lyceum Theatre Wellington Street2100 Ambassador Theatre Group The Lion King Musical19 October 1999Open-ended
Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue967 Nimax Theatres
Noël Coward Theatre St. Martin's Lane872 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Dear Evan Hansen [30] Musical19 November 2019Open-ended
Novello Theatre Aldwych1143 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mamma Mia! Musical6 April 1999Open-ended
Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue1400 Nimax Theatres Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play25 July 2016Open-ended
Phoenix Theatre Charing Cross Road1012 Ambassador Theatre Group Come from Away Musical18 February 2019Open-ended
Piccadilly Theatre Denman Street1200 Ambassador Theatre Group Pretty Woman: The Musical [31] Musical1 March 20206 February 2021
Playhouse Theatre Craven Street786 Ambassador Theatre Group
Prince Edward Theatre Old Compton Street1650 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mary Poppins [32] Musical13 November 2019Open-ended
Prince of Wales Theatre Coventry Street1160 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Book of Mormon Musical21 March 2013Open-ended
Savoy Theatre Strand1158 Ambassador Theatre Group
Shaftesbury Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue1400The Theatre of Comedy Company & Juliet [33] Musical20 November 2019Open-ended
Sondheim Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue1074 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Les Misérables Musical16 January 2020Open-ended
St Martin's Theatre West Street550 Stephen Waley-Cohen The Mousetrap Play25 November 1952Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Catherine Street2196 LW Theatres Frozen [34] Musical14 April 2021*Open-ended
Theatre Royal Haymarket Haymarket888 Crown Estate Only Fools and Horses The Musical Musical19 February 2019Open-ended
Trafalgar Studios Whitehall400Trafalgar Entertainment Group
Vaudeville Theatre Strand690 Nimax Theatres Magic Goes Wrong [35] Play8 January 2020Open-ended
Victoria Palace Theatre Victoria Street1517 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Hamilton Musical21 December 2017Open-ended
Wyndham's Theatre St. Martin's Court750 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres

Upcoming productions

The following have been announced as future West End productions. The theatre in which they will run is either not yet known or currently occupied by another show.

Baby Reindeer Ambassadors Theatre PostponedPlay
The Doctor Duke of York's Theatre 2021Play [36]
A Doll's House Playhouse Theatre PostponedPlay [37]
The Drifters Girl Garrick Theatre October 1, 2020Musical [38]
Get Up, Stand Up! Lyric Theatre February 6, 2021Musical [39]
Hello, Dolly! Adelphi Theatre 2022Musical [40]
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat London Palladium 15 July 2021Musical [41]
Life of Pi Wyndham's Theatre PostponedPlay [42]
Moulin Rouge! Piccadilly Theatre Late 2021Musical [43]
Shook Trafalgar Studios TBAPlay [44]
Sunday in the Park with George Savoy Theatre 2021Musical [45]
To Kill a Mockingbird Gielgud Theatre PostponedPlay [46]
Mean Girls TBASpring 2021Musical [47]
The Pillowman Duke of York's Theatre 2021Play [48]
The Watsons Harold Pinter Theatre PostponedPlay [49]
Pantomime (Title to be announced) London Palladium December 5, 2020Pantomime [50]

London's non-commercial theatres

The exterior of the Old Vic Old Vic theatre London Waterloo.jpg
The exterior of the Old Vic

The term "West End theatre" is generally used to refer specifically to commercial productions in Theatreland. However, the leading non-commercial theatres in London enjoy great artistic prestige. These include the Royal National Theatre, the Barbican Centre, Shakespeare's Globe (including the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), the Old Vic, Royal Court Theatre, Sadler's Wells Theatre, and the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. 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 West End 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 home to the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and a resident symphony orchestra, 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 located on the edge of the Theatreland area. Now owned by the London School of Economics and Political Science, it is used in the evenings for dance performances by Sadler's Wells, who manage the theatre on behalf of the school.

Other London theatres

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 and Off-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, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Rose Theatre, Kingston, New Wimbledon Theatre, the Rudolf Steiner Theatre in Westminster, the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, Secombe Theatre in Sutton and the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.


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

See also


  1. 1 2 Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1194–1195, ISBN   0-521-43437-8
  2. 1 2 "London's 10 oldest theatres". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  3. "Shakespeare's indoor Globe to glow by candlelight". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  5. "New Figures Reveal West End Theatre is Thriving". London Box Office. February 2020.
  6. "Stars on stage". London theatre. Retrieved 23 June 2015
  7. Jane Milling; Peter Thomson (23 November 2004). The Cambridge History of British Theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 439. ISBN   978-0-521-65040-3.
  8. "London's Vibrant West End Theatre SCENE". TheatreHistory.com. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  9. 1 2 "London pub trivia – Ten oldest London theatres". Timeout London. 12 December 2006. Archived from the original on 3 December 2008. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  10. "London's Lost Tea-Gardens: I". Story of London. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  11. "Sadler's Wells Theatre". LondonTown.com. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  12. "Royal Opera House". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  13. "The Savoy Theatre", The Times , 3 October 1881
  14. "1.8 million views of Lion King". Theatre Views Newsletter. October 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  15. Michael Billington "Snooty about musicals? Sheila Hancock should change her tune", The Guardian. (blog), 16 March 2001
  16. Giles Worsley "Falling Houses", The Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2003
  17. Michael Billington "Crisis in the West End", The Guardian, 2 August 2007
  18. Sarah Jane Griffiths "How safe is London's Theatreland?", BBC News, 20 December 2013
  19. At the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2004, 15 people were injured when part of the ceiling fell on to them; see the Sarah Jane Griffiths article above.
  20. Alice Philipson, and Andrew Marszal "Apollo Theatre ceiling in London's West End collapses: scores injured", The Daily Telegraph, 20 December
  21. "The Dominion Theatre, home to An American in Paris, completes £6M refurbishment". mr.carlwoodward.com. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  22. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. Singh, Anita (29 January 2014). "West End audiences hit record high thanks to Twitter". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  24. "West End Theatre Ticket Sales at Record High". Sky (United Kingdom). 29 January 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  25. "West End Has Another Record Year, With Increases in Both Attendance and Revenue". Playbill. 29 January 2014. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  26. "Theatre closures to help slow the spread of Coronavirus". UK Theatre. 16 March 2020. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  27. "Agatha Christie's: The Mousetrap". St. Martin's Theatre. Archived from the original on 26 June 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2019. Here you will find all the information you need about the longest running show, of any kind, in the world.
  28. McPhee, Ryan (2 May 2019). "Musical Adaptation of DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt to Play London's West End". Playbill. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  29. Wiegand, Chris (10 January 2020). "Killing Eve's Emerald Fennell and Andrew Lloyd Webber create new Cinderella". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  30. "DEAR EVAN HANSEN | Toronto | Official Site". Dear Evan Hansen. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  31. "Pretty Woman musical West End dates, venue and more confirmed | WhatsOnStage". www.whatsonstage.com. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  32. Criscitiello, Alexa. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! MARY POPPINS to Return to the West End in 2019". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  33. Longman, Will (25 January 2019). "Max Martin musical & Juliet to open in London starring Miriam Teak-Lee". London Theatre Guide. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  34. "Disney's Frozen musical to reopen Theatre Royal Drury Lane". LW Theatres. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  35. "Penn and Teller create Magic Goes Wrong with Mischief Theatre | WhatsOnStage". www.whatsonstage.com. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  36. "The Doctor, starring Juliet Stevenson, postponed to 2021". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 13 May 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  37. "Jessica Chastain to make West End debut in Jamie Lloyd's A Doll's House". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 25 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  38. "Beverley Knight to star in new musical The Drifters Girl in the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 1 November 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  39. "Bob Marley musical Get Up, Stand Up! to premiere in West End in 2021". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 17 February 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  40. "Hello, Dolly! starring Imelda Staunton postponed to 2022". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 29 May 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  41. "Joseph revival at the London Palladium rescheduled to 2021". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 29 May 2020. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  42. "Life of Pi stage adaptation to transfer to Wyndham's Theatre". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  43. "Moulin Rouge delays West End opening to late 2021". londontheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  44. "Samuel Bailey's Shook to transfer to Trafalgar Studios". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 23 January 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  45. "Sunday in the Park with George postponed until further notice".
  46. "Bartlett Sher's To Kill A Mockingbird to transfer to West End in summer 2020". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 31 October 2019. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  47. "Mean Girls to Transfer to West End in 2021 and be Adapted into A Film".
  48. "The Pillowman starring Steve Pemberton postponed to next year". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  49. "Laura Wade's Jane Austen play The Watsons to transfer to Harold Pinter Theatre". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 12 November 2019. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  50. "Panto is returning to The London Palladium in 2020 | LW Theatres News". LW Theatres. Retrieved 15 March 2020.

Coordinates: 51°30′41″N0°07′41″W / 51.51139°N 0.12806°W / 51.51139; -0.12806

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