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. 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.
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. Famous screen actors, British and international alike, frequently appear on the London stage.
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 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. 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.
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, and stated that 60% of theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible. 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. Of these earlier incidents, only one led to people being hurt, but at the Apollo Theatre 76 people needed medical treatment for their injuries.
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 In 2013, sales again rose this time by 11% to £585,506,455, with attendances rising to 14,587,276. This was despite slightly fewer performances occurring in 2013.
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, Lion King 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.
|Adelphi Theatre||Strand||1436||LW Theatres / Nederlander Organization||Kinky Boots||Musical||15 September 2015||12 January 2019|
|Aldwych Theatre||Aldwych||1176||Nederlander Organization||Tina||Musical||17 April 2018||Open-ended|
|Ambassadors Theatre||West Street||444||Stephen Waley-Cohen||Pressure||Play||12 June 2018||1 September 2018|
|Apollo Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||775||Nimax Theatres||Everybody’s Talking About Jamie||Musical||22 November 2017||Open-ended|
|Apollo Victoria Theatre||Wilton Road||2384||Ambassador Theatre Group||Wicked||Musical||27 September 2006||Open-ended|
|Arts Theatre||Great Newport Street||350||JJ Goodman Ltd.||Knights Of The Rose||Musical||5 July 2018||26 August 2018|
|Cambridge Theatre||Earlham Street||1283||LW Theatres||Matilda the Musical||Musical||24 November 2011||Open-ended|
|Criterion Theatre||Jermyn Street||593||Criterion Theatre Trust||The Comedy About a Bank Robbery||Play||21 April 2016||Open-ended|
|Dominion Theatre||Tottenham Court Road||2069||Nederlander Organization||Bat Out of Hell The Musical||Musical||2 April 2018||Open-ended|
|Duchess Theatre||Catherine Street||494||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||King Lear||Play||26 July 2018||3 November 2018|
|Fortune Theatre||Russell Street||432||Ambassador Theatre Group||The Woman in Black||Play||7 June 1989||Open-ended|
|Garrick Theatre||Charing Cross Road||718||Nimax Theatres||Young Frankenstein||Musical||10 October 2017||25 August 2018|
|Gielgud Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||986||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Imperium: The Cicero Play||Play||2 July 2018||8 September 2018|
|Gillian Lynne Theatre||Drury Lane||1108||LW Theatres||School of Rock||Musical||14 November 2016||Open-ended|
|Harold Pinter Theatre||Panton Street||796||Ambassador Theatre Group||Pinter at the Pinter||Play||6 September 2018*||23 February 2019|
|Her Majesty's Theatre||Haymarket||1160||LW Theatres||The Phantom of the Opera||Musical||9 October 1986||Open-ended|
|London Palladium||Argyll Street||2286||LW Theatres||The King and I||Musical||3 July 2018||29 September 2018|
|Lyceum Theatre||Wellington Street||2100||Ambassador Theatre Group||The Lion King||Musical||19 October 1999||Open-ended|
|Lyric Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||967||Nimax Theatres||Thriller – Live||Musical||21 January 2009||Open-ended|
|Noël Coward Theatre||St. Martin's Lane||872||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||The Lieutenant of Inishmore||Play||4 July 2018||8 September 2018|
|Novello Theatre||Aldwych||1143||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Mamma Mia!||Musical||6 April 1999||Open-ended|
|Palace Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||1400||Nimax Theatres||Harry Potter and the Cursed Child||Play||25 July 2016||Open-ended|
|Phoenix Theatre||Charing Cross Road||1012||Ambassador Theatre Group||Chicago||Musical||11 April 2018||5 January 2019|
|Piccadilly Theatre||Denman Street||1200||Ambassador Theatre Group||Strictly Ballroom||Musical||24 April 2018||Open-ended|
|Playhouse Theatre||Craven Street||786||Ambassador Theatre Group||The Jungle||Play||5 July 2018||3 November 2018|
|Prince Edward Theatre||Old Compton Street||1650||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Aladdin||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||1074||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Les Misérables||Musical||5 October 1985||Open-ended|
|Savoy Theatre||Strand||1158||Ambassador Theatre Group||Dreamgirls||Musical||14 December 2016||12 January 2019|
|Shaftesbury Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||1400||The Theatre of Comedy Company||Motown: The Musical||Musical||8 March 2016||Open-ended|
|St Martin's Theatre||West Street||550||Stephen Waley-Cohen||The Mousetrap||Play||26 March 1974||Open-ended|
|Theatre Royal, Drury Lane||Catherine Street||2196||LW Theatres||42nd Street||Musical||4 April 2017||5 January 2019|
|Theatre Royal Haymarket||Haymarket||888||Crown Estate||Heathers: The Musical||Musical||11 September 2018*||24 November 2018|
|Trafalgar Studios||Whitehall||400||Trafalgar Entertainment Group||Killer Joe||Play||18 May 2018||18 August 2018|
|Vaudeville Theatre||Strand||690||Nimax Theatres||The Importance of Being Earnest||Play||2 August 2018||20 October 2018|
|Victoria Palace Theatre||Victoria Street||1517||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Hamilton||Musical||21 December 2017||Open-ended|
|Wyndham's Theatre||St. Martin's Court||750||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||The Height of the Storm||Play||9 October 2018*||1 December 2018|
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.
- The Band, Theatre Royal Haymarket
- Caroline, or Change, Playhouse Theatre
- Come from Away, Phoenix Theatre
- Company, Gielgud Theatre
- Six, Arts Theatre
- Don Quixote, Garrick Theatre
- Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre
- The Inheritance, Noel Coward Theatre
- Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios
- Summer and Smoke, Duke of York's Theatre
- True West, Vaudeville Theatre
- The Wipers Times, Arts 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 enjoy great artistic prestige. These include the Royal National Theatre, the Barbican Centre, 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 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 Awards
- WhatsOnStage Awards
- London Critics' Circle Theatre Awards
- National Dance Awards
- West End Cares Awards
- West End Frame Awards
- Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1194–1195, ISBN 0-521-43437-8
- Singh, Anita (23 June 2015). "West End audiences hit record high thanks to Twitter". The Daily Telegraph. London.
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- "1.8 million views of Lion King". Theatre Views Newsletter. October 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
- Michael Billington "Snooty about musicals? Sheila Hancock should change her tune", The Guardian. (blog), 16 March 2001
- Giles Worsley "Falling Houses", The Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2003
- Michael Billington "Crisis in the West End", The Guardian, 2 August 2007
- Sarah Jane Griffiths "How safe is London's Theatreland?", BBC News, 20 December 2013
- 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.
- Alice Philipson, and Andrew Marszal "Apollo Theatre ceiling in London's West End collapses: scores injured", The Daily Telegraph, 20 December
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
- Singh, Anita (29 January 2014). "West End audiences hit record high thanks to Twitter". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
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- "Tina Turner musical to open at the Aldwych in spring 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 September 2017. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
- "David Haig play Pressure to transfer to West End's Ambassadors Theatre this summer". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 3 April 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
- "www.londontheatre.co.uk/theatre-news/news/everybodys-talking-about-jamie-to-open-in-the-west-end". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 21 June 2017. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
- "Event - Arts Theatre". Arts Theatre. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
- "Bat Out of Hell to open at the Dominion Theatre in 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
- "Ian McKellen to play King Lear in London's West End this summer". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 8 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- "Dates for Young Frankenstein West End run announced". WhatsOnStage.com. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
- "RSC's Imperium comes to conquer West End's Gielgud Theatre - Official London Theatre". Official London Theatre. Retrieved 2018-03-25.
- https://www.pinteratthepinter.com/. Retrieved 30 June 2018. Missing or empty
- "The King and I set for London Palladium run in 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 13 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
- "Poldark's Aidan Turner to make West End debut in The Lieutenant of Inishmore". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 24 November 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- "Chicago to be revived in London in spring 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
- "Strictly Ballroom to transfer to London's Piccadilly Theatre in 2018". London Theatre Guide. 2017-09-08. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
- "The Jungle to transfer into the West End". whatsonstage.com. WhatsOnStage. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "Heathers the Musical to transfer to the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
- "Orlando Bloom to star in London revival of Killer Joe this summer". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- "Dates confirmed for remaining Oscar Wilde season productions". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 18 December 2017. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
- "New Florian Zeller play to star Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins in the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 9 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- "Take That musical The Band to run in London's West End in December". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 16 March 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- "Caroline, or Change to transfer to the West End following Hampstead success". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
- Criscitiello, Alexa. "COME FROM AWAY Will Fly to the West End in February 2019!". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
- Patti LuPone to star with Rosalie Craig in Company
- "Event - Arts Theatre". Arts Theatre. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
- "Dawn French and Julian Clary to star in Snow White at the London Palladium". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
- "RSC's Don Quixote starring David Threlfall and Rufus Hound to transfer to West End". Retrieved 2018-06-14.
- "Game of Thrones' Iwan Rheon to star in Foxfinder in the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 5 July 2018. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
- "Young Vic's The Inheritance to transfer to West End following sell-out run". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 16 May 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
- "National Theatre's Nine Night to transfer to the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 19 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
- "Almeida's Summer and Smoke to transfer to West End starring Patsy Ferran". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 11 June 2018. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
- "Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn to star in Sam Shepard's True West". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- "The Wipers Times to return to the West End this autumn". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 19 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
- Society of London Theatre – trade body for the London theatre industry
- London's West End Theatres Information and archive material on London's historic West End Theatres.