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West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of Londonmarker's "Theatreland". Along with New Yorkmarker's Broadway theatremarker, 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 in June 2005 The Times reported that this record might be beaten in 2005. Total attendance numbers surpassed 13 million in 2007, setting a new record for the West End. Factors behind high ticket sales in the first half of 2005 included new hit musicals such as Billy Elliot, The Producers and Mary Poppins and the high number of film stars appearing. Since the late 1990s there has been an increase in the number of American screen actors on the London stage, and in 2005 these included Brooke Shields, Val Kilmer, Rob Lowe, David Schwimmer and Kevin Spacey.


Theatre in London flourished after the English Reformation. The first permanent public playhouse, known simply as The Theatremarker, was constructed in 1576 in Shoreditchmarker by James Burbage. It was soon joined by The Curtainmarker. Both are known to have been used by William Shakespeare's company. In 1599, the timber from The Theatre was moved to Southwarkmarker, where it was used in building the Globe Theatremarker in a new theatre district formed, beyond the controls of the City corporation. These theatres were closed in 1642 during the interregnum.

At the restoration in 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 Courtmarker. 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 Lanemarker. 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 Theatremarker opened in Islingtonmarker 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 Theatremarker opened on 29 December 1720 on a site slightly north of its current location, and the Theatre Royal, Covent Gardenmarker opened in Covent Gardenmarker 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 be established in the East Endmarker at Shoreditch and Whitechapelmarker.

The West End theatre district became established with the opening of many small theatres and halls, including the Adelphimarker in The Strandmarker on 17 November 1806. South of the River Thames, the Old Vicmarker, Waterloo Roadmarker, 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 Vaudevillemarker opened on 16 April 1870. The next several decades saw the opening of many new theatres in the West End. The Criterion Theatremarker opened on Piccadilly Circusmarker on 21 March 1874, and in 1881, two more houses appeared: the Savoy Theatremarker 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 Theatremarker opened as the Royal Comedy Theatre on Panton Street in Leicester Squaremarker. 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, 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.


Now rebranded - by Westminster council and the Society of London Theatre - as "Theatreland", London's main theatre district, which contains approximately forty venues, is located in the heart of the West Endmarker of Central London, and is traditionally defined by The Strandmarker to the south, Oxford Streetmarker to the north, Regent Streetmarker to the west, and Kingswaymarker to the east. Prominent theatre streets include Drury Lanemarker, Shaftesbury Avenuemarker, and The Strandmarker. The works staged are predominantly musicals, classic or middle-brow plays, and comedy performances.

Beyond the West End are the Royal National Theatremarker and Old Vicmarker, in Southwarkmarker; and the Barbican Theatremarker, 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 is very difficult to make substantial improvements to the level of comfort offered. In 2004, it was estimated an investment of £250 million was required for modernisation, and the theatre owners unsuccessfully requested tax concessions to help them meet the costs.

Long-running shows

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. However the non-musical Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap is the longest running show in the world, and has been showing 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.

| Duke of York's Theatremarker  ||  Speaking in Tongues  || 640 || 2009-09-18September 18 2009 ||2009-12-12 December 12 2009
| Fortune Theatremarker  ||  The Woman in Black  ||  432 || 1989-06-07June 7 1989  || Open-ended
| Garrick Theatremarker  ||  Arturo Brachetti – Change||  656 || 2009-10-19October 19 2009 || 2010-01-03January 3 2010
| Lyric Theatre  ||  Thriller - Live  ||  967 || 2009-02-01February 1 2009  || Open-ended
| Noël Coward Theatremarker  ||  Calendar Girls  ||  872 || 2009-04-04April 4 2009||2010-01-09January 9 2010
| Trafalgar Studios 1marker  ||  Othello  || 380 || 2009-09-11September 11 2009 ||2009-12-12 December 12  2009
| Trafalgar Studios 2marker  ||  Public Property || 100 || 2009-11-10November 10 2009 ||2009-12-05 December 5 2009
| Vaudeville Theatremarker  ||  The Rise and Fall of Little Voice  ||  690 || 2009-10-08October 8 2009  || 2010-01-30January 30 2010
| Victoria Palace Theatremarker  ||  Billy Elliot  ||  1550 || 2005-05-11May 11 2005  || Open-ended
Theatre Current show Capacity Opening
| Adelphi Theatremarker  ||  The Rat Pack: Live From Las Vegas   ||  1500 ||  2009-09-24September 24 2009 || 2010-01-02January 2 2010
| Aldwych Theatremarker  ||  Dirty Dancing  ||  1200 || 2006-09-28September 28 2006  || Open-ended
| Ambassadors Theatremarker  ||  Stomp  ||  330 || 2007-10-04October 4 2007  || Open-ended
Apollo Theatremarker Dylan Moran 796 2009-10-26October 26 2009 2009-12-05 December 5 2009
| Apollo Victoria Theatremarker  ||  Wicked  ||  2292 || 2006-09-27September 27 2006  || Open-ended
| Arts Theatremarker  ||  A Christmas Carol || 350 || 2009-11-11November 11 2009 ||2010-01-10 January 10 2010
| Cambridge Theatremarker  ||  Chicago  ||  1231 || 2006-04-27April 27 2006  || Open-ended
|Coliseum Theatremarker   ||  Repertory theatre  ||  2358 || ||
| Comedy Theatremarker  ||  The Misanthrope  ||  796 || 2009-12-17December 17 2009 || 2010-03-13 March 13 2010
| Criterion Theatremarker  ||  The 39 Steps  ||  588 || 2006-09-20September 20 2006  || Open-ended
| Dominion Theatremarker  ||  We Will Rock You  ||  2163 || 2002-05-14May 14 2002  || Open-ended
| Duchess Theatremarker  ||  Endgame  ||  479 || 2009-10-02October 2 2009 ||2009-12-02December 5 2009
Gielgud Theatremarker Avenue Q 937 2009-06-01June 1 2009 Open-ended
| Her Majesty's Theatremarker  ||  The Phantom of the Opera  ||  1216 || 1986-10-09October 9 1986  || Open-ended
| London Palladiummarker  ||  Sister Act  ||  2286 || 2009-05-07 June 2 2009 ||  Open-ended
| Lyceum Theatremarker  ||  The Lion King  ||  2100 || 1999-09-24September 24 1999  || Open-ended
New London Theatremarker War Horse 1100 2009-04-03April 3rd 2009 style="display:none">Open-ended
Novello Theatremarker Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1050 2009-12-01Deceber 1 2009 2010-04-10 April 10 2010
Palace Theatremarker Priscilla Queen of The Desert 1400 2009-03-10March 10 2009 Open-ended
| Piccadilly Theatremarker  ||  Grease  ||  1232 || 2007-07-24July 24 2007  || Open-ended
| Phoenix Theatremarker  ||  Blood Brothers  ||  1012 || 1991-11-21November 21 1991  || Open-ended
| Playhouse Theatremarker  ||  La Cage Aux Folles   ||  786 ||  2008-10-28October 20 2008 || 2010-01-02January 2 2010
| Prince Edward Theatremarker  ||  Jersey Boys  ||  1618 || 2008-03-18March 18 2008  || Open-ended
| Prince of Wales Theatremarker  ||  Mamma Mia! ||  1160 || 2004-06-09June 9 2004  || Open-ended
| Queen's Theatremarker  ||  Les Misérables  ||  989 || 2004-04-03April 3 2004  || Open-ended
| Royal Opera Housemarker  ||  Repertory opera and ballet  ||  2262 || ||
Savoy Theatremarker Legally Blonde The Musical 1150 2009-07-22January 12 2010* Open-ended
| Shaftesbury Theatremarker  ||  Hairspray  ||  1400 || 2007-10-11October 11 2007  || Open-ended
| St Martin's Theatremarker  ||  The Mousetrap  ||  550 || 1974-03-25March 25 1974  || Open-ended
| Theatre Royal, Haymarketmarker ||  Breakfast at Tiffany's  ||  888 || 2009-09-29September 29 2009 || 2010-01-09January 9 2010
| Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker  ||  Oliver! ||  2196 || 2009-01-14January 14 2009  || Open-ended
Wyndhams Theatremarker An Inspector Calls 759 2009-12-03December 12 2009 2009-03-13March 13 2010

Upcoming productions

London's non-commercial theatres

The exterior of the Old Vic
should be noted that the term West End Theatre is sometimes used to refer specifically to commercial productions in Theatreland. However the leading non-commercial (usually government subsidised) theatres in London, such as the National Theatremarker, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe Theatremarker, the Old Vicmarker, the Young Vicmarker, the Royal Court Theatremarker, the Almeida Theatremarker, and the Open Air Theatremarker, most of which are not located in Theatreland, arguably enjoy greater 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 Housemarker 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 Garniermarker, La Scalamarker and the Metropolitan Opera House, New Yorkmarker. Commonly known simply as Covent Gardenmarker due to its location, it is unique to other 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 (19th Century Main Auditorium, Linbury Theatre and Clore Studio) and hosts guest performances from other leading opera, ballet and performance companies from around the world.

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 Yorkmarker. 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.

Finally, there are also local theatres in the suburbs which stage a wide range of work, often including touring productions, such as the New Wimbledon Theatremarker or the Churchill Theatremarker in Bromley.


There are a number of annual awards for outstanding achievements in London theatre:

See also


  1. Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp.1194–1195. ISBN 0521434378.
  2. TV talent shows help West End shows to record audience - Telegraph
  5. Time Out London
  8. The Mousetrap London theatre tickets and information
  9. Phantom of The Opera London - information on the theatre show
  10. Blood Brothers London - information on the theatre show
  11. Fortune Theatre London - information and tickets
  12. Long Runs – Broadway, Off Broadway, London, Toronto & Other Major Cities

External links

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