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West End theatre

West End theatre

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]

Society of London Theatre (SOLT) has announced that 2017 was a record year for the capital's theatre industry with attendances topping 15,000,000 for the first time since the organization began collecting audience data in 1986. Box office revenues also exceeded £700,000,000.[2] Famous screen actors, British and international alike, frequently appear on the London stage.[3]


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.

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.[4][5]

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.[5] 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. 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.

However, owing to their age, 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.

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.[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.

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.

TheatreAddressCapacityOwner/OperatorCurrent productionClassificationOpening
Adelphi TheatreStrand1436LW Theatres / Nederlander OrganizationWaitress[20]Musical2019-03-077 March 2019Open-ended
Aldwych TheatreAldwych1176Nederlander OrganizationTina—The Tina Turner MusicalMusical2018-04-1717 April 2018Open-ended
Ambassadors TheatreWest Street444Ambassador Theatre GroupThe Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾Musical2019-07-022 July 20192019-09-2828 September 2019
Apollo TheatreShaftesbury Avenue775Nimax TheatresEverybody's Talking About JamieMusical2017-11-2222 November 2017Open-ended
Apollo Victoria TheatreWilton Road2384Ambassador Theatre GroupWickedMusical2006-09-2727 September 2006Open-ended
Arts TheatreGreat Newport Street350JJ Goodman Ltd.Six[21]Musical2019-01-2929 January 2019Open-ended
Cambridge TheatreEarlham Street1283LW TheatresMatilda the MusicalMusical2011-11-2424 November 2011Open-ended
Criterion TheatreJermyn Street593Criterion Theatre TrustThe Comedy About a Bank RobberyPlay2016-04-2121 April 2016Open-ended
Dominion TheatreTottenham Court Road2069Nederlander OrganizationBig[22]Musical2019-09-1717 September 20192019-11-022 November 2019
Duchess TheatreCatherine Street494Nimax TheatresThe Play That Goes WrongPlay2014-09-1414 September 2014Open-ended
Duke of York's TheatreSt. Martin's Lane650Ambassador Theatre GroupThe Son[23]Play2019-09-022 September 20192019-11-022 November 2019
Fortune TheatreRussell Street432Ambassador Theatre GroupThe Woman in BlackPlay1989-06-077 June 1989Open-ended
Garrick TheatreCharing Cross Road718Nimax TheatresNoises Off[24]Play2019-10-033 October 2019*2020-01-044 January 2020
Gielgud TheatreShaftesbury Avenue986Delfont Mackintosh TheatresLes Misérables: The All-Star Staged Concert[25]Concert2019-08-1010 August 20192019-11-3030 November 2019
Gillian Lynne TheatreDrury Lane1108LW TheatresSchool of RockMusical2016-11-1414 November 2016Open-ended
Harold Pinter TheatrePanton Street796Ambassador Theatre GroupIan McKellen on Stage[26]Play2019-09-2020 September 20192020-01-055 January 2020
Her Majesty's TheatreHaymarket1160LW TheatresThe Phantom of the OperaMusical1986-10-099 October 1986Open-ended
London PalladiumArgyll Street2286LW TheatresGoldilocks and the Three Bears[27]Pantomime2019-12-077 December 2019*2020-01-1212 January 2020
Lyceum TheatreWellington Street2100Ambassador Theatre GroupThe Lion KingMusical1999-10-1919 October 1999Open-ended
Lyric TheatreShaftesbury Avenue967Nimax TheatresThriller – LiveMusical2009-01-2121 January 20092020-04-2626 April 2020
Noël Coward TheatreSt. Martin's Lane872Delfont Mackintosh TheatresThe Night of the Iguana[28]Play2019-07-1616 July 20192019-09-2828 September 2019
Novello TheatreAldwych1143Delfont Mackintosh TheatresMamma Mia!Musical1999-04-066 April 1999Open-ended
Palace TheatreShaftesbury Avenue1400Nimax TheatresHarry Potter and the Cursed ChildPlay2016-07-2525 July 2016Open-ended
Phoenix TheatreCharing Cross Road1012Ambassador Theatre GroupCome from Away[29]Musical2019-02-1818 February 2019Open-ended
Piccadilly TheatreDenman Street1200Ambassador Theatre GroupHeartbeat of Home[30]Dance2019-09-1010 September 20192019-10-1313 October 2019
Playhouse TheatreCraven Street786Ambassador Theatre GroupFiddler on the Roof[31]Musical2019-03-2727 March 20192019-11-022 November 2019
Prince Edward TheatreOld Compton Street1650Delfont Mackintosh TheatresMary Poppins[32]Musical2019-11-1313 November 2019*Open-ended
Prince of Wales TheatreCoventry Street1160Delfont Mackintosh TheatresThe Book of MormonMusical2013-03-2121 March 2013Open-ended
Savoy TheatreStrand1158Ambassador Theatre Group9 to 5 The Musical[33]Musical2019-02-1717 February 20192020-05-2323 May 2020
Shaftesbury TheatreShaftesbury Avenue1400The Theatre of Comedy Company& Juliet[34]Musical2019-11-2020 November 2019*Open-ended
Sondheim TheatreShaftesbury Avenue1099Delfont Mackintosh TheatresLes MisérablesMusical2019-12-1818 December 2019*Open-ended
St Martin's TheatreWest Street550Stephen Waley-CohenThe MousetrapPlay1952-11-2525 November 1952Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Drury LaneCatherine Street2196LW TheatresFrozen[35]MusicalAutumn 2020*Open-ended
Theatre Royal HaymarketHaymarket888Crown EstateOnly Fools and Horses The Musical[36]Musical2019-02-1919 February 2019Open-ended
Trafalgar StudiosWhitehall400Trafalgar Entertainment GroupA Day in the Death of Joe Egg[37]Play2019-10-022 October 2019*2019-11-3030 November 2019
Vaudeville TheatreStrand690Nimax TheatresGroan Ups[38]Play2019-10-1010 October 2019*2019-12-011 December 2019
Victoria Palace TheatreVictoria Street1517Delfont Mackintosh TheatresHamiltonMusical2017-12-2121 December 2017Open-ended
Wyndham's TheatreSt. Martin's Court750Delfont Mackintosh TheatresThe Man in the White Suit[39]Play2019-10-088 October 2019*2020-01-1111 January 2020

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.


  • Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre[40]

  • Girl From the North Country, Gielgud Theatre[41]

  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, London Palladium[42]

  • Pretty Woman: The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre[43]

  • The Prince of Egypt, Dominion Theatre[44]

  • Sunday in the Park with George, Savoy Theatre[45]

  • White Christmas, Dominion Theatre[46]


  • Blithe Spirit, Duke of York's Theatre[47]

  • Cyrano de Bergerac, Playhouse Theatre[48]

  • Death of a Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre[49]

  • Ghost Stories, Ambassadors Theatre[50]

  • Leopoldstadt, Wyndham's Theatre[51]

  • Touching the Void, Duke of York's Theatre[52]

  • Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre[53]


  • Magic Goes Wrong, Vaudeville Theatre[54]

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 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:

  • Laurence Olivier Awards

  • Evening Standard Theatre Awards

  • WhatsOnStage Awards

  • Critics' Circle Theatre Awards

  • National Dance Awards

  • West End Cares Awards

  • West End Frame Awards

See also

  • Culture of London

  • List of London venues

  • Great West End Theatres

  • List of former theatres in London


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