West End theatre

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 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]

In 2013, ticket sales reached a record 14.5 million making West End the largest English speaking audience in the world.[2] Famous screen actors frequently appear on the London stage.[3] Helen Mirren received an award for her performance as the Queen on the West End stage, and then stated, "theatre is such an important part of British history and British culture".[4]


Further information: English Renaissance theatre

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 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.

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.

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.

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.


"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.[10]

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

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

Long-running shows

The length of West End shows depend on ticket sales. 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

Theatre Address Capacity Owner/Operator Current production Classification Opening
Adelphi Theatre Strand 1436 Really Useful Theatres Kinky Boots Musical 15 September 2015 Open-ended
Aldwych Theatre Aldwych 1176 Nederlander Organization Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Musical 24 February 2015 Open-ended
Ambassadors Theatre West Street 450 Stephen Waley-Cohen Stomp Physical theatre 4 October 2007 Open-ended
Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 658[36] Nimax Theatres Peter Pan Goes Wrong Play 20 October 2016 29 January 2017
Apollo Victoria Theatre Wilton Road 2384 Ambassador Theatre Group Wicked Musical 27 September 2006 Open-ended
Arts Theatre Great Newport Street 350[37] JJ Goodman Ltd. A Christmas Carol[38] Play 15 December 2016* 7 January 2017
Cambridge Theatre Earlham Street 1283 Really Useful Theatres Matilda the Musical Musical 24 November 2011 Open-ended
Criterion Theatre Jermyn Street 591[39] Criterion Theatre Trust The Comedy About a Bank Robbery[40] Play 21 April 2016 Open-ended
Dominion Theatre Tottenham Court Road 2001 Nederlander Organization The Bodyguard[41] Musical 21 July 2016 7 January 2017
Duchess Theatre Catherine Street 494[42] Nimax Theatres The Play That Goes Wrong Play 14 September 2014 Open-ended
Duke of York's Theatre St. Martin's Lane 650 Ambassador Theatre Group The Dresser[43] Play 13 October 2016 14 January 2017
Fortune Theatre Russell Street 440 Ambassador Theatre Group The Woman in Black Play 7 June 1989 Open-ended
Garrick Theatre Charing Cross Road 718[44] Nimax Theatres This House[45] Play 30 November 2016 25 February 2017
Gielgud Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 889 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Play 8 July 2014 Open-ended
Harold Pinter Theatre Panton Street 796 Ambassador Theatre Group Nice Fish[46] Play 25 November 2016 11 February 2017
Her Majesty's Theatre Haymarket 1161 Really Useful Theatres The Phantom of the Opera Musical 9 October 1986 Open-ended
London Palladium Argyll Street 2286 Really Useful Theatres Cinderella Pantomime 14 December 2016* 15 January 2017
Lyceum Theatre Wellington Street 2100 Ambassador Theatre Group The Lion King Musical 19 October 1999 Open-ended
Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 915[47] Nimax Theatres Thriller – Live Musical 21 January 2009 Open-ended
New London Theatre Drury Lane 1108 Really Useful Theatres School of Rock[48] Musical 14 November 2016 Open-ended
Noël Coward Theatre St. Martin's Lane 872 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Half a Sixpence[49] Musical 17 November 2016 Open-ended
Novello Theatre Aldwych 1143 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mamma Mia! Musical 6 September 2012 Open-ended
Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1400[50] Nimax Theatres Harry Potter and the Cursed Child[51] Play 30 July 2016 Open-ended
Phoenix Theatre Charing Cross Road 1000 Ambassador Theatre Group Dirty Dancing[52] Musical 6 December 2016* 31 December 2016
Piccadilly Theatre Denman Street 1200 Ambassador Theatre Group Jersey Boys Musical 15 March 2014 26 March 2017
Playhouse Theatre Craven Street 786 Ambassador Theatre Group An Inspector Calls[53] Play 10 November 2016 25 March 2017
Prince Edward Theatre Old Compton Street 1618 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Aladdin[54] Musical 15 June 2016 Open-ended
Prince of Wales Theatre Coventry Street 1160 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Book of Mormon Musical 21 March 2013 Open-ended
Queen's Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1099 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Les Misérables Musical 12 April 2004 Open-ended
Savoy Theatre Strand 1158 Ambassador Theatre Group Dreamgirls[55] Musical 13 December 2016* Open-ended
Shaftesbury Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1400 The Theatre of Comedy Company Motown: The Musical[56] Musical 8 March 2016 Open-ended
St Martin's Theatre West Street 550 Stephen Waley-Cohen The Mousetrap Play 25 March 1974 Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Catherine Street 2196 Really Useful Theatres Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Musical 25 June 2013 7 January 2017
Theatre Royal Haymarket Haymarket 888 Crown Estate Love's Labour's Lost/Much Ado About Nothing[57] Play 17 December 2016* 18 March 2017
Trafalgar Studios Whitehall 380 Ambassador Theatre Group Buried Child[58] Play 1 December 2016 18 February 2017
Vaudeville Theatre Strand 681[59] Nimax Theatres Dead Funny[60] Play 3 November 2016 4 February 2017
Victoria Palace Theatre Victoria Street 1517 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Hamilton Musical October 2017* Open-ended
Wyndham's Theatre St. Martin's Court 750 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres No Man's Land[61] Play 20 September 2016 17 December 2016

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.




London's non-commercial theatres

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, the Shakespeare's Globe, the Old Vic, 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 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 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


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  11. Giles Worsley "Falling Houses", The Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2003
  12. Michael Billington "Crisis in the West End", The Guardian, 2 August 2007
  13. Sarah Jane Griffiths "How safe is London's Theatreland?", BBC News, 20 December 2013
  14. 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.
  15. Alice Philipson, and Andrew Marszal "Apollo Theatre ceiling in London's West End collapses: scores injured", The Daily Telegraph, 20 December
  16. http://www.solt.co.uk/downloads/pdfs/pressroom/2013-01-29-SOLT%202012-box-office-figures.pdf
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External links

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