West End theatre

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London's Palace Theatre built in 1891

West End theatre is a common term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of "Theatreland" in and near the West End of London.[1] 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.[1]

Total attendances first surpassed 12 million in 2002 and then 13 million in 2007,[2] setting a new record for the West End. In 2013, ticket sales reached a record 14.5 million.[3] Famous screen actors regularly appear on the London stage.[4]


Further information: English Renaissance theatre

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.[5][6]

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,[7][8] 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.[6] 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.[9][10]

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.


"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 and modern straight plays, and comedy performances.[11]

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,[12] and stated that 60% of theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible.[13] 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.[14] Of these earlier incidents, only one led to people being hurt,[15] but at the Apollo Theatre 76 people needed medical treatment for their injuries.[16]

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[17] In 2013, sales again rose this time by 11% to £585,506,455,[18] with attendances rising to 14,587,276.[19] This was despite slightly fewer performances occurring in 2013.[20]

Long-running shows[edit]

The length of West End shows depend on ticket sales. Musicals tend to have longer runs than dramas.[citation needed] 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.

The St Martin's Theatre, home to The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the world.

List of West End theatres[edit]

  • 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 Kinky Boots[37] Musical 1436 2015-09-1515 September 2015 Open-ended
Aldwych Theatre Nederlander Organization Beautiful: The Carole King Musical[38] Musical 1176 2015-02-2424 February 2015 Open-ended
Ambassadors Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Stomp Physical Theatre 450 2007-10-044 October 2007 Open-ended
Apollo Theatre Nimax Theatres Showstopper! The Improvised Musical[39] Entertainment 658[40] 2015-09-2424 September 2015 2015-11-2929 November 2015
Apollo Victoria Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Wicked Musical 2384 2006-09-2727 September 2006 Open-ended
Arts Theatre JJ Goodman Ltd. The Blues Brothers Xmas Special[41] Musical 350[42] 2015-12-033 December 2015* 2016-01-1010 January 2016
Cambridge Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group Matilda the Musical Musical 1283 2011-11-2424 November 2011 Open-ended
Criterion Theatre Criterion Theatre Trust Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined[43] Musical 591[44] 2015-10-1515 October 2015 2016-02-1414 February 2016
Dominion Theatre Nederlander Organization Elf: The Musical[45] Musical 2001 2015-11-055 November 2015 2016-01-022 January 2016
Duchess Theatre Nimax Theatres The Play That Goes Wrong[46] Play 494[47] 2014-09-1414 September 2014 Open-ended
Duke of York's Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Farinelli and the King[48] Play 650 2015-09-2929 September 2015 2015-12-055 December 2015
Fortune Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group The Woman in Black Play 440 1989-06-077 June 1989 Open-ended
Garrick Theatre Nimax Theatres The Winter's Tale/Harlequinade[49] Play 718[50] 2015-11-077 November 2015 2016-01-1616 January 2016
Gielgud Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time[51] Play 889 2014-07-088 July 2014 Open-ended
Harold Pinter Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Sunny Afternoon[52] Musical 796 2014-10-2828 October 2014 Open-ended
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 Cats[53] Musical 2286 2015-10-2727 October 2015 2016-01-022 January 2016
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[54] 2009-01-2121 January 2009 Open-ended
New London Theatre Really Useful Theatres Group War Horse Play 1108 2009-04-033 April 2009 2016-03-1212 March 2016[55]
Noël Coward Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres A Christmas Carol[56] Play 872 2015-12-099 December 2015* 2016-01-3030 January 2016
Novello Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mamma Mia! Musical 1143 2012-09-066 September 2012 Open-ended
Palace Theatre Nimax Theatres Derren Brown: Miracle[57] Magic 1400[58] 2015-11-1717 November 2015 2016-01-1616 January 2016
Phoenix Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Bend It Like Beckham the Musical[59] Musical 1000 2015-06-2424 June 2015 Open-ended
Piccadilly Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Jersey Boys[60] Musical 1200 2014-03-1515 March 2014 Open-ended
Playhouse Theatre Ambassador Theatre Group Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games[61] Dance 786 2015-10-1010 October 2015 2016-01-033 January 2016
Prince Edward Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Miss Saigon[62] Musical 1618 2014-05-2121 May 2014 2016-02-2727 February 2016
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 Gypsy[63] Musical 1158 2015-04-1515 April 2015 2015-11-2828 November 2015
Shaftesbury Theatre The Theatre of Comedy Company The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible[64] Magic 1400 2015-11-1616 November 2015 2016-01-033 January 2016
St Martin's Theatre Stephen Waley-Cohen The Mousetrap Play 550 1974-03-2525 March 1974 Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Haymarket Crown Estate Mr. Foote's Other Leg[65] Play 888 2015-11-044 November 2015 2016-01-2323 January 2016
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Really Useful Theatres Group Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Musical 2196 2013-06-2525 June 2013 Open-ended
Trafalgar Studios 1 Ambassador Theatre Group The Homecoming[66] Play 380 2015-11-2323 November 2015 2016-02-1313 February 2016
Trafalgar Studios 2 Ambassador Theatre Group Four Minutes Twelve Seconds[67] Play 100 2015-11-1212 November 2015 2015-12-055 December 2015
Vaudeville Theatre Nimax Theatres 30 Million Minutes[68] Play 681[69] 2015-11-1212 November 2015 2015-12-099 December 2015
Victoria Palace Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Billy Elliot the Musical[70] Musical 1517 2005-05-1111 May 2005 Open-ended
Wyndham's Theatre Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Hangmen[71] Play 750 2015-12-077 December 2015* 2016-03-055 March 2016

Upcoming productions[edit]

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.



London's non-commercial theatres[edit]

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, 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 theatres[edit]

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, 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[edit]


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′41″N 0°07′41″W / 51.51139°N 0.12806°W / 51.51139; -0.12806