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West End Theatre

When you think of London, it’s impossible not to think West End theatre. Over 40 venues perform world-class shows to audiences of over 14 million every year, making it the largest theatre scene in the English-speaking world. It is home to the Olivier Awards, one of the most highly-regarded theatre awards, legendary producers past and present including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Noel Coward, and some of the greatest stories ever told from Aladdin, to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, to The Lion King.

West End musicals staged in Theatreland promise an experience quite unlike any other, forming a major part of the London tourist scene but equally loved by locals alike. Many shows are aimed at all ages, such as Wicked and Tim Minchin’s Matilda, offering a memorable experience that the whole family can enjoy, while the introduction of shows like The Book of Mormon have proved the popularity for side-splitting adult humour on stage. For first-timers, many would recommend you start with one of the classics like Les Misérables, the longest running in West End history, but there’s always something new for well-seasoned theatre-goers such as School of Rock, based on the Jack Black film which opened in 2016, or the amazing Tina Turner Musical playing at the Aldwych Theatre.

In fact, the greatest pleasure of West End musicals is the thrill of a different performance every night. A different audience, a different reaction from an actor, a new detail you didn’t discover first time round and, if you plan on returning to London at a later date, perhaps even a different cast entirely. Ask any of the many West End fanatics out there, you’ll be hooked.

The productions are housed in some of the capital’s most beautiful buildings steeped in history and tradition, The Palace Theatre even leaves two seats free every night for its resident ghosts, that come alive night after night. Don’t leave London without booking a ticket.

FAQ

FAQ

What is West End theatre?

The area to the West of the City of London is renowned for its entertainment and nightlife, especially theatre. Since the 17th century, playhouses, actors and directors have clustered in this area to create one of the world’s most celebrated centres of performing arts. Today, you can catch celebrities and world-class actors from around the world performing in the West End, alongside the very best behind-the-scenes crews who help to create unrivalled theatre experiences.

West End shows attract more than 15 million tourists and Londoners through their doors every year. Theatre sizes range from around 500 seats to the London Palladium’s impressive 2286 seats. Many of the most popular shows are musicals, and the 40-odd productions showing in the West End at any one time range from retellings of classic stories to groundbreaking new writing.

How many theatres are in the West End?

It all depends on your definition of West End theatre! Some classify it as any theatre in the loosely defined entertainment district known as the West End (typically Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Oxford Street, Regent Street and their surrounding side streets). The City of Westminster, which contains these areas, is home to 53 theatre venues.

However, some of these theatres are small, independent venues which don’t host big musical productions typically associated with the term ‘West End theatre’. Equally, some of these shows are hosted at venues in other parts of town. By this definition, there are around 40 West End theatres in London. So there’s no excuse for a quiet night in!

Which is the oldest theatre in London’s West End?

The Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in Covent Garden is not just the oldest theatre in the West End, but the whole of London. A performance venue has existed on the same site since 1663, though previous Theatre Royal buildings were either demolished for refurbishment or ruined by fire. The current building, a beautiful, Grade I listed example of Regency architecture, was erected in 1812. It truly lives up to its name as well, having hosted every monarch since Charles II. Today, the institution is owned by the king of musicals himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

What’s the longest running show?

Some West End shows never go out of style. The Mousetrap has been continuously showing in the West End since 1952, smashing the record for the longest running show in British history in 1957 and making it impossible for anyone to beat ever since. In fact, it’s the longest running show anywhere in the world. In 2018 the show marked another phenomenal milestone of 27,500 performances. We’re sure its playwright, Agatha Christie, who died in 1976, would be astonished to know her murder mystery is still just as popular today.

What’s the longest running musical?

When it comes to the West End’s hugely popular musicals, Les Misérables holds the title of longest running show, having been wowing audiences non-stop since October 1985. The show matches Victor Hugo’s heart-wrenching tale of the French Revolution with unforgettable music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. It’s not hard to see why ticket sales are still strong today.

As well as holding the record for the longest running West End musical, and second longest running musical in the world, it is decorated with multiple Olivier Awards including taking home the Audience Award for Most Popular Show in both 2012 and 2014.

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