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.