West End theatre
West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of London's "Theatreland", the West End. 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.
Total attendances first surpassed 12 million in 2002 and 13 million in 2007, setting a new record for the West End. Since the late 1990s there has been an increase in the number of famous screen actors on the London stage.
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.
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.
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. The theatre building boom continued until about World War I.
Among the noted performers who began their careers in the early days of West End theatre are Robert William Elliston, John Liston, Nell Gwynne, Lennie Dean and later Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, John Lawrence Toole, Nellie Farren, Marie Tempest, Seymour Hicks, Ellaline Terriss, and Marie Brema.
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.
Since the 1990s, there has been a growing tendency for film actors to play in West End productions.
"Theatreland", London's main theatre district, which contains approximately forty venues, is located in the heart of the West End of central London, and is traditionally defined by The Strand to the south, Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west, and Kingsway to the east. 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.
Beyond the West End are the Royal National Theatre and Old Vic, in Southwark; and the Barbican Theatre, in the City of London. London also has many smaller theatres, both around the West End and its periphery.
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 2004, it was estimated that an investment of £250 million was required for modernisation, and the theatre owners unsuccessfully requested tax concessions to help them meet the costs.
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 
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 show in the world, and has been showing since 1952.
- 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
- Blood Brothers – opened 27 August 1988 at the Albery Theatre, later transferring to the Phoenix Theatre and closed on 10 November 2012 – 24 years
- The Woman in Black – opened 15 February 1989 at the Strand Theatre, later moving to the Fortune Theatre opening on the 7 June 1989 – 24th year
- 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 – 17 years
- No Sex Please, We're British – opened 3 June 1971 at the Strand Theatre and closed 16 January 1987 – 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 – 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 – 10 years
- Miss Saigon – opened 20 September 1989 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and closed 30 October 1999 – 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 – 8 years
- Me and My Girl (revival) – opened 12 February 1985 at the Adelphi Theatre and closed 16 January 1993 – 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 – 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 – 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
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
|Adelphi Theatre||The Bodyguard||Musical||1500||5 December 2012||Open-ended|
|Aldwych Theatre||Stephen Ward the Musical||Musical||1176||19 December 2013*||Open-ended|
|Ambassadors Theatre||Stomp||Physical Theatre||450||4 October 2007||Open-ended|
|Apollo Theatre||The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time||Play||775||12 March 2013||Open-ended|
|Apollo Victoria Theatre||Wicked||Musical||2500||27 September 2006||Open-ended|
|Arts Theatre||Dickens (abridged)||Play||350||2 December 2013||5 January 2014|
|Cambridge Theatre||Matilda the Musical||Musical||1283||24 November 2011||Open-ended|
|Criterion Theatre||The 39 Steps||Play||591||20 September 2006||Open-ended|
|Dominion Theatre||We Will Rock You||Musical||2001||14 May 2002||Open-ended|
|Duchess Theatre||The Wind in the Willows||Family||494||16 December 2013*||1 February 2014|
|Duke of York's Theatre||Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense||Play||650||12 November 2013||Open-ended|
|Fortune Theatre||The Woman in Black||Play||440||7 June 1989||Open-ended|
|Garrick Theatre||Twelve Angry Men||Play||718||11 November 2013||Open-ended|
|Gielgud Theatre||Strangers on a Train||Play||889||19 November 2013||22 February 2014|
|Harold Pinter Theatre||Mojo||Play||796||13 November 2013||8 February 2014|
|Her Majesty's Theatre||The Phantom of the Opera||Musical||1161||9 October 1986||Open-ended|
|London Palladium||Eat Pray Laugh! Barry Humphries Farewell Tour||Play||2302||15 November 2013||5 January 2014|
|Lyceum Theatre||The Lion King||Musical||2100||19 October 1999||Open-ended|
|Lyric Theatre||Thriller – Live||Musical||915||21 January 2009||Open-ended|
|New London Theatre||War Horse||Play||1108||3 April 2009||Open-ended|
|Noël Coward Theatre||Henry V||Play||872||3 December 2013||15 February 2014|
|Novello Theatre||Mamma Mia!||Musical||1143||6 September 2012||Open-ended|
|Palace Theatre||The Commitments||Musical||1400||8 October 2013||Open-ended|
|Phoenix Theatre||Once||Musical||1000||9 April 2013||Open-ended|
|Piccadilly Theatre||Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage||Musical||1200||13 July 2013||22 February 2014|
|Playhouse Theatre||Monty Python's Spamalot||Musical||786||20 November 2012||Open-ended|
|Prince Edward Theatre||Jersey Boys||Musical||1618||18 March 2008||9 March 2014|
|Prince of Wales Theatre||The Book of Mormon||Musical||1160||21 March 2013||Open-ended|
|Queen's Theatre||Les Misérables||Musical||1099||12 April 2004||Open-ended|
|Savoy Theatre||Let It Be||Musical||1158||1 February 2013||8 February 2014|
|Shaftesbury Theatre||From Here to Eternity the Musical||Musical||1400||23 October 2013||26 April 2014|
|St. James Theatre||In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)||Play||312||21 November 2013||4 January 2014|
|St Martin's Theatre||The Mousetrap||Play||550||25 March 1974||Open-ended|
|Theatre Royal, Haymarket||One Man, Two Guvnors||Play||888||2 March 2012||1 March 2014|
|Theatre Royal, Drury Lane||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical||Musical||2220||25 June 2013||Open-ended|
|Trafalgar Studios 1||Ghosts||Play||380||17 December 2013*||8 March 2014|
|Trafalgar Studios 2||Julie Madly Deeply||Cabaret||100||26 November 2013||4 January 2014|
|Vaudeville Theatre||The Duck House||Play||681||10 December 2013*||29 March 2014|
|Victoria Palace Theatre||Billy Elliot the Musical||Musical||1517||11 May 2005||Open-ended|
|Wyndham's Theatre||Barking in Essex||Play||750||16 September 2013||4 January 2014|
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre
- I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical, London Palladium
- Jersey Boys, Piccadilly Theatre
- Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre
- Urinetown, St. James Theatre
- Blithe Spirit, Gielgud Theatre
- Fatal Attraction, Theatre Royal, Haymarket
- The Full Monty, Noël Coward Theatre
- Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre
- Only Our Own, Arts Theatre
- The Only Way is Downton, Trafalgar Studios 2
- Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre
- Uncle Vanya/Three Sisters, Wyndham's Theatre
- The Weir, Wyndham's Theatre
London's non-commercial theatres
The term West End Theatre is generally used to refer specifically to commercial productions in Theatreland. However the leading non-commercial theatres in London, such as the Royal National Theatre, the Globe Theatre, the Old Vic, the Young Vic, the Royal Court Theatre, the Hampstead Theatre, the Almeida Theatre, and the Open Air Theatre, most of which are not located in Theatreland, also enjoy great artistic prestige. These theatres stage a higher proportion of more demanding work, including Shakespeare, other classic plays and premieres of new plays by leading highbrow playwrights. Hit plays from the non-commercial theatres sometimes transfer to one of the commercial Theatreland houses for an extended second run.
The Royal Opera House is one of London's most famous theatres and 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 theatres in many ways, not least in having three resident performance companies, The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera 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.
While the vast majority of West End theatres are receiving houses (houses that receive productions from elsewhere), there are a number of established producing houses, both within the heart of the West End and in other parts of London. Some of the more famous ones are:
- Almeida Theatre
- Barbican Centre
- Bush Theatre
- Donmar Warehouse
- Hampstead Theatre
- Lyric Hammersmith
- Old Vic
- Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park
- Rose Theatre, Kingston
- Royal Court Theatre
- Royal National Theatre
- Shakespeare's Globe
- Young Vic
Other London theatre
There is a great deal of theatre in London outside of the West End. Much of this is known as fringe theatre which is the equivalent of Off Broadway Theatre in New York. 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 a number of annual awards for outstanding achievements in London theatre:
- Laurence Olivier Awards
- Evening Standard Awards
- London Critics' Circle Theatre Awards
- National Dance Awards
- West End Cares Awards
- Whatsonstage.com Awards
- West End Frame Awards
- Culture of London
- List of London venues
- List of West End musicals
- List of notable musical theatre productions
- Musical theatre
- Great West End Theatres
- Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1194–1195, ISBN 0-521-43437-8
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