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.
|Adelphi Theatre||Strand||1436||LW Theatres / Nederlander Organization||Waitress||Musical||7 March 2019||Open-ended|
|Aldwych Theatre||Aldwych||1176||Nederlander Organization||Tina: The Musical||Musical||17 April 2018||Open-ended|
|Ambassadors Theatre||West Street||444||Ambassador Theatre Group||The Twilight Zone||Play||13 March 2019||1 June 2019|
|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.||Six the Musical||Musical||29 January 2019||5 January 2020|
|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||Big||Musical||17 September 2019*||2 November 2019|
|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||Rosmersholm||Play||2 May 2019*||20 July 2019|
|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||Rip it Up||Entertainment||7 February 2019||2 June 2019|
|Gielgud Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||986||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Sweat||Play||7 June 2019*||20 July 2019|
|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||Betrayal||Play||13 March 2019||8 June 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||Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat||Musical||11 July 2019*||8 September 2019|
|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||All About Eve||Play||12 February 2019||11 May 2019|
|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||Come from Away||Musical||18 February 2019||Open-ended|
|Piccadilly Theatre||Denman Street||1200||Ambassador Theatre Group||The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time||Play||11 December 2018||27 April 2019|
|Playhouse Theatre||Craven Street||786||Ambassador Theatre Group||Fiddler on the Roof||Musical||27 March 2019||Open-ended|
|Prince Edward Theatre||Old Compton Street||1650||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres||Aladdin||Musical||15 June 2016||31 August 2019|
|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||5 October 1985||13 July 2019|
|Savoy Theatre||Strand||1158||Ambassador Theatre Group||9 to 5 The Musical||Musical||17 February 2019||31 August 2019|
|Shaftesbury Theatre||Shaftesbury Avenue||1400||The Theatre of Comedy Company||The Illusionists||Entertainment||6 July 2019*||1 September 2019|
|St Martin's Theatre||West Street||550||Stephen Waley-Cohen||The Mousetrap||Play||25 November 1952||Open-ended|
|Theatre Royal, Drury Lane||Catherine Street||2196||LW Theatres||Frozen||Musical||Autumn 2020*||Open-ended|
|Theatre Royal Haymarket||Haymarket||888||Crown Estate||Only Fools and Horses The Musical||Musical||19 February 2019||Open-ended|
|Trafalgar Studios||Whitehall||400||Trafalgar Entertainment Group||Admissions||Play||12 March 2019||25 May 2019|
|Vaudeville Theatre||Strand||690||Nimax Theatres||Emilia||Play||21 March 2019||15 June 2019|
|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 Price||Play||11 February 2019||27 April 2019|
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 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.
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:
The 1976 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in December 1976, London. They were the first major award ceremony celebrating excellence in West End theatre from the Society of West End Theatre, which would later be called the Society of London Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1977 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1977 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1977 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1978 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1978 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1978 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1979 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1979 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1979 in London at the Café Royal, celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1980 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1980 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1980 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1981 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1981 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1981 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1982 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1982 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1982 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.1983 Laurence Olivier Awards
The 1983 Society of West End Theatre Awards were held in 1983 in London celebrating excellence in West End theatre by the Society of West End Theatre. The awards would not become the Laurence Olivier Awards, as they are known today, until the 1984 ceremony.Ambassadors Theatre (London)
The Ambassadors Theatre (formerly the New Ambassadors Theatre), is a West End theatre located in West Street, near Cambridge Circus on Charing Cross Road in the City of Westminster. It is one of the smallest of the West End theatres, seating a maximum of 444, with 195 people in the dress circle and 251 in the stalls.Apollo Victoria Theatre
The Apollo Victoria Theatre is a West End theatre on Wilton Road in the Westminster district of London, across from London Victoria Station. (The theatre also has an entrance on Vauxhall Bridge Road.) Opened in 1930 as a cinema and variety theatre, the Apollo Victoria became a venue for musical theatre, beginning with The Sound of Music in 1981, and including the long-running Starlight Express, from 1984 to 2002. The theatre is currently the home of the musical Wicked, which has played at the venue for twelve years as of 2018.Cambridge Theatre
The Cambridge Theatre is a West End theatre, on a corner site in Earlham Street facing Seven Dials, in the London Borough of Camden, built in 1929–30 for Bertie Meyer on an "irregular triangular site".Drury Lane
Drury Lane is a street on the eastern boundary of the Covent Garden area of London, running between Aldwych and High Holborn. The northern part is in the borough of Camden and the southern part in the City of Westminster.Fortune Theatre
The Fortune Theatre is a 432-seat West End theatre on Russell Street, near Covent Garden, in the City of Westminster. Since 1989 the theatre has hosted the long running play The Woman in Black.Gate Theatre (London)
The Gate Theatre is a theatre in London, above the Prince Albert pub on Notting Hill Gate. With 75 seats, it is the smallest “off-West End” theatre in the city.Gillian Lynne Theatre
The Gillian Lynne Theatre (formerly New London Theatre) is a West End theatre located on the corner of Drury Lane and Parker Street in Covent Garden, in the London Borough of Camden. The Winter Garden Theatre formerly occupied the site until 1965. On 14 March 2018, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that the theatre would be renamed The Gillian Lynne Theatre later in the year, in honour of Gillian Lynne. The name officially changed on 1 May 2018. It is the first theatre in the West End of London to be named after a non-royal woman.Laurence Olivier Award
The Laurence Olivier Awards, or simply the Olivier Awards, are presented annually by the Society of London Theatre to recognise excellence in professional theatre in London at an annual ceremony in the capital. The awards were originally known as the Society of West End Theatre Awards, but they were renamed in honour of the British actor Laurence Olivier in 1984.
The awards are given to individuals involved in West End productions and other leading non-commercial theatres based in London across a range of categories covering plays, musicals, dance, opera and affiliate theatre. A discretionary non-competitive Special Olivier Award is also given each year. The Olivier Awards are recognised internationally as the highest honour in British theatre, equivalent to the BAFTA Awards for film and television, and the BRIT Awards for music. The Olivier Awards are considered equivalent to Broadway's Tony Awards and France's Molière Award.
Since its inception, the awards have been held at various venues and theatres across London, from 2012-2016 at the Royal Opera House, before moving to the Royal Albert Hall in 2017. Television coverage is broadcast in prime time on ITV, who acquired the rights from 2013 onwards with radio coverage by Magic Radio.Off West End
Off West End refers to theatres in London which are not included as West End theatres. The term is a relatively recent one, coined after the similar American term "Off-Broadway" (though without the same strict definition). It is usually used synonymously with the more widespread term Fringe (or, specifically, "the London Fringe"), but sometimes is also used to refer to more mainstream or commercial theatre which is located within London but outside the centre, or to especially small and non-commercial theatres located within the centre. According to the London Theatre Guide, "Smaller theatres, including many pub theatres, are called Fringe, although some of these small theatres are also called Off West End, particularly those located in the West End of London, where most of the big commercial theatres are. These small theatres can vary in size, with seating capacities of around 40 to 400."While West End Theatres must register with the Society Of London Theatre, SOLT membership for the Off West End is entirely optional and is not widespread. The industry organisation for Off West End and Fringe venues is the Society of Independent Theatres.Shaftesbury Avenue
Shaftesbury Avenue is a major street in the West End of London, named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It runs north-easterly from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street, crossing Charing Cross Road at Cambridge Circus. From Piccadilly Circus to Cambridge Circus, it is in the City of Westminster, and from Cambridge Circus to New Oxford Street, it is in the London Borough of Camden.
Shaftesbury Avenue was built between 1877 and 1886 by the architect George Vulliamy and the engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette to provide a north-south traffic artery through the crowded districts of St. Giles and Soho. It was also part of a slum clearance measure, to push impoverished workers out of the city centre; although the street's construction was stalled by legislation requiring rehousing some of these displaced residents, overcrowding persisted. Charles Booth's Poverty Map shows the neighbourhood makeup shortly after Shaftesbury Avenue opened. It is generally considered the heart of London's West End theatre district, with the Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud and Queen's theatres clustered together on the west side of the road between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross Road. At the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road there is also the large Palace Theatre. Finally, the north-eastern end of the road has another large theatre, the Shaftesbury Theatre.
The former Saville Theatre is on Shaftesbury Avenue; this became a cinema in 1970, first known as ABC1 and ABC2, and since 2001 as Odeon Covent Garden. Another cinema, the Soho Curzon, is located about halfway along the street.
Between 1899 and 1902, no. 67 Shaftesbury Avenue was the location of the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture, which is the first commercial Asian martial arts training school in the Western world.
Shaftesbury Avenue marks the boundary of three discrete West End areas. The subsection of the road from Piccadily Circus to Cambridge Circus marks the southern border of Soho. Of that subsection a slightly shorter stretch thereof, from Great Windmill Street to Cambridge Circus, denotes the southern edge of the Soho gay village. Overlapping the gay village boundary, the still-shorter part of the street from Wardour Street to Greek Street marks the interface between gay Soho and London's Chinatown. However some Chinese businesses can be found north of Shafestbury Avenue, whilst some gay bars can be done successfully without them. The number of Chinese businesses on the street has been on the increase. On the ground level alone in Aug 2007, there were 2 traditional Chinese medicine practices, 5 Chinese restaurants, 3 Chinese supermarkets, 3 Chinese travel agents, 2 Chinese mobile phone outlets, 1 Chinese cake shop, 2 Chinese hair salons, 1 Chinese fishmonger, 1 Chinese newsagent, 1 Chinese bureau de change and 3 Chinese banks.-->In the evening, street artists gather on the pavement outside the HQ of ICE - International Currency Exchange and Raphaels Bank (previously the home of Natwest) at the Piccadilly Circus end of Shaftesbury Avenue, and produce portraits for the tourists.Society of London Theatre
The Society of London Theatre (previously the Society of West End Theatre) is an umbrella organisation for West End theatre in London. Founded in 1908, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), is the not-for-profit organisation which provides a collective voice for the theatre owners, producers and managers of all the major commercial and grant-aided theatres across London. As well as protecting the interests of all its member theatres, SOLT promotes theatregoing through activities including the Laurence Olivier Awards, the TKTS ticket booth, Theatre Tokens, OfficialLondonTheatre.com, and the printed fortnightly Official London Theatre listings guide. The organisation administers the audience development initiatives Kids Week and Official London Theatre's New Year Sale, and runs events including the 'behind-the-scenes' career fair, TheatreCraft, and West End LIVE, alongside Westminster City Council. SOLT also supports a number of theatrical charities including Stage One and Mousetrap Theatre Projects.
Theatres in London
|Off West End|