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.[1] 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.[1]

In 2013, ticket sales reached a record 14.4 million, making West End theatre the largest English-speaking audience in the world.[2] Famous screen actors, British and international alike, frequently appear on the London stage.[3]


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.[4][5]

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,[6][7] 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.[5] 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.[9]

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,[10] and stated that 60% of theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible.[11] 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.[12] Of these earlier incidents, only one led to people being hurt,[13] but at the Apollo Theatre 76 people needed medical treatment for their injuries.[14]

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[15] In 2013, sales again rose this time by 11% to £585,506,455,[16] with attendances rising to 14,587,276.[17] This was despite slightly fewer performances occurring in 2013.[18]

Long-running shows

The St Martin's Theatre, home to The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the world.

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 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.
Theatre Address Capacity Owner/Operator Current production Classification Opening
Adelphi Theatre Strand 1436 Really Useful Theatres / Nederlander Organization Kinky Boots Musical 2015-09-1515 September 2015 Open-ended
Aldwych Theatre Aldwych 1176 Nederlander Organization Tina: The Musical[19] Musical 2018-04-1717 April 2018* Open-ended
Ambassadors Theatre West Street 450 Stephen Waley-Cohen All or Nothing[20] Musical 2018-03-2828 March 2018 2018-06-022 June 2018
Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 658[21] Nimax Theatres Everybody’s Talking About Jamie[22] Musical 2017-11-2222 November 2017 Open-ended
Apollo Victoria Theatre Wilton Road 2304 Ambassador Theatre Group Wicked Musical 2006-09-2727 September 2006 Open-ended
Arts Theatre Great Newport Street 350[23] JJ Goodman Ltd. Ruthless! Musical 2018-03-2727 March 2018 2018-06-2323 June 2018
Cambridge Theatre Earlham Street 1283 Really Useful Theatres Matilda the Musical Musical 2011-11-2424 November 2011 Open-ended
Criterion Theatre Jermyn Street 591[24] Criterion Theatre Trust The Comedy About a Bank Robbery Play 2016-04-2121 April 2016 Open-ended
Dominion Theatre Tottenham Court Road 2001 Nederlander Organization Bat Out of Hell The Musical[25] Musical 2018-04-022 April 2018 Open-ended
Duchess Theatre Catherine Street 494[26] Nimax Theatres The Play That Goes Wrong Play 2014-09-1414 September 2014 Open-ended
Duke of York's Theatre St. Martin's Lane 650 Ambassador Theatre Group The Moderate Soprano[27] Play 2018-04-1212 April 2018* 2018-06-3030 June 2018
Fortune Theatre Russell Street 440 Ambassador Theatre Group The Woman in Black Play 1989-06-077 June 1989 Open-ended
Garrick Theatre Charing Cross Road 718[28] Nimax Theatres Young Frankenstein[29] Musical 2017-10-1010 October 2017 Open-ended
Gielgud Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 889 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Ferryman[30] Play 2017-06-2929 June 2017 2018-05-1919 May 2018
Harold Pinter Theatre Panton Street 796 Ambassador Theatre Group The Birthday Party[31] Play 2018-01-1818 January 2018 2018-04-1414 April 2018
Her Majesty's Theatre Haymarket 1161 Really Useful Theatres The Phantom of the Opera Musical 1986-10-099 October 1986 Open-ended
London Palladium Argyll Street 2286 Really Useful Theatres The King and I[32] Musical 2018-07-033 July 2018* 2018-09-2929 September 2018
Lyceum Theatre Wellington Street 2100 Ambassador Theatre Group The Lion King Musical 1999-10-1919 October 1999 Open-ended
Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 915[33] Nimax Theatres Thriller – Live Musical 2009-01-2121 January 2009 Open-ended
New London Theatre Drury Lane 1108 Really Useful Theatres School of Rock Musical 2016-11-1414 November 2016 Open-ended
Noël Coward Theatre St. Martin's Lane 872 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Quiz[34] Play 2018-04-1010 April 2018* 2018-06-1616 June 2018
Novello Theatre Aldwych 1143 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Mamma Mia! Musical 2012-09-066 September 2012 Open-ended
Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1400[35] Nimax Theatres Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play 2016-07-3030 July 2016 Open-ended
Phoenix Theatre Charing Cross Road 1000 Ambassador Theatre Group Chicago[36] Musical 2018-03-2626 March 2018 Open-ended
Piccadilly Theatre Denman Street 1200 Ambassador Theatre Group Strictly Ballroom[37] Musical 2018-04-2424 April 2018* Open-ended
Playhouse Theatre Craven Street 786 Ambassador Theatre Group The Best Man[38] Play 2018-03-055 March 2018 2018-05-1212 May 2018
Prince Edward Theatre Old Compton Street 1618 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Aladdin Musical 2016-06-1515 June 2016 Open-ended
Prince of Wales Theatre Coventry Street 1160 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres The Book of Mormon Musical 2013-03-2121 March 2013 Open-ended
Queen's Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1099 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Les Misérables Musical 2004-04-1212 April 2004 Open-ended
Savoy Theatre Strand 1158 Ambassador Theatre Group Dreamgirls Musical 2016-12-1414 December 2016 Open-ended
Shaftesbury Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue 1400 The Theatre of Comedy Company Motown: The Musical Musical 2016-03-088 March 2016 Open-ended
St Martin's Theatre West Street 550 Stephen Waley-Cohen The Mousetrap Play 1974-03-2525 March 1974 Open-ended
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Catherine Street 2196 Really Useful Theatres 42nd Street[39] Musical 2017-04-044 April 2017 Open-ended
Theatre Royal Haymarket Haymarket 888 Crown Estate Frozen[40] Play 2018-02-2121 February 2018 2018-05-055 May 2018
Trafalgar Studios Whitehall 380 Trafalgar Entertainment Group The Grinning Man[41] Musical 2017-12-066 December 2017 2018-04-1414 April 2018
Vaudeville Theatre Strand 681[42] Nimax Theatres Lady Windermere's Fan[43] Play 2018-01-2222 January 2018 2018-04-077 April 2018
Victoria Palace Theatre Victoria Street 1517 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Hamilton Musical 2017-12-2121 December 2017 Open-ended
Wyndham's Theatre St. Martin's Court 750 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Long Day's Journey into Night[44] Play 2018-02-066 February 2018 2018-04-088 April 2018

Upcoming productions

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.



London's non-commercial theatres

The exterior of the Old Vic

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:

See also


  1. ^ a b Christopher Innes, "West End" in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 1194–1195, ISBN 0-521-43437-8
  2. ^ Singh, Anita (23 June 2015). "West End audiences hit record high thanks to Twitter". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  3. ^ "Stars on stage". London theatre. Retrieved 23 June 2015
  4. ^ "London's Vibrant West End Theatre SCENE". TheatreHistory.com. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "London pub trivia – Ten oldest London theatres". Timeout London. 12 December 2006. Archived from the original on 3 December 2008. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  6. ^ "London's Lost Tea-Gardens: I". Story of London. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Sadler's Wells Theatre". LondonTown.com. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "1.8 million views of Lion King". Theatre Views Newsletter. October 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Michael Billington "Snooty about musicals? Sheila Hancock should change her tune", The Guardian. (blog), 16 March 2001
  10. ^ Giles Worsley "Falling Houses", The Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2003
  11. ^ Michael Billington "Crisis in the West End", The Guardian, 2 August 2007
  12. ^ Sarah Jane Griffiths "How safe is London's Theatreland?", BBC News, 20 December 2013
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Alice Philipson, and Andrew Marszal "Apollo Theatre ceiling in London's West End collapses: scores injured", The Daily Telegraph, 20 December
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  16. ^ Singh, Anita (29 January 2014). "West End audiences hit record high thanks to Twitter". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "West End Theatre Ticket Sales at Record High". Sky (United Kingdom). 29 January 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "West End Has Another Record Year, With Increases in Both Attendance and Revenue". Playbill. 29 January 2014. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Tina Turner musical to open at the Aldwych in spring 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 September 2017. Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  20. ^ "Mod musical All or Nothing set for transfer to Ambassadors Theatre". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2018. 
  21. ^ "Apollo Theatre". nimaxtheatres.com. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  22. ^ "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. 
  23. ^ "Arts Theatre". artstheatrewestend.co.uk. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  24. ^ "Technical Overview". Criterion Theatre Trust. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  25. ^ "Bat Out of Hell to open at the Dominion Theatre in 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017. 
  26. ^ "Duchess Theatre". nimaxtheatres.com. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  27. ^ "David Hare's The Moderate Soprano to transfer to the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
  28. ^ "Garrick Theatre". nimaxtheatres.com. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  29. ^ "Dates for Young Frankenstein West End run announced". WhatsOnStage.com. Retrieved 2017-02-09. 
  30. ^ "Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman transfers to The Gielgud Theatre". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 8 February 2017. Retrieved 8 February 2017. 
  31. ^ "Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party to star Zoe Wanamaker and Stephen Mangan". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre Guide. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017. 
  32. ^ "The King and I set for London Palladium run in 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 13 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017. 
  33. ^ "Lyric Theatre". nimaxtheatres.com. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  34. ^ "James Graham's Quiz to transfer to the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017. 
  35. ^ "Seating". palacetheatrelondon.org. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  36. ^ "Chicago to be revived in London in spring 2018". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 15 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017. 
  37. ^ "Strictly Ballroom to transfer to London's Piccadilly Theatre in 2018". London Theatre Guide. 2017-09-08. Retrieved 2017-09-08. 
  38. ^ "The Best Man to transfer to the West End starring Martin Shaw". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018. 
  39. ^ "BAZ BAMIGBOYE: That's a lot of legs!". Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  40. ^ "Bryony Lavery's Tony-Nominated Drama Frozen Set for West End Production Starring Suranne Jones & Jason Watkins". broadway.com. Broadway.com. 1 September 2017. Retrieved 1 September 2017. 
  41. ^ "Musical The Grinning Man set for West End transfer in December". londontheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 6 October 2017. 
  42. ^ "Vaudeville Theatre". nimaxtheatres.com. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  43. ^ a b c "Dates confirmed for remaining Oscar Wilde season productions". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 18 December 2017. Retrieved 18 December 2017. 
  44. ^ "Long Day's Journey Into Night starring Jeremy Irons to transfer to Wyndham's Theatre". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 25 July 2017. Retrieved 2 August 2017. 
  45. ^ "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. 
  46. ^ "Caroline, or Change to transfer to the West End following Hampstead success". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 23 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018. 
  47. ^ Patti LuPone to star with Rosalie Craig in Company
  48. ^ "Nina Raine's Consent to transfer from National Theatre to the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018. 
  49. ^ "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. 
  50. ^ "RSC's Imperium comes to conquer West End's Gielgud Theatre - Official London Theatre". Official London Theatre. Retrieved 2018-03-25. 
  51. ^ "The Jungle to transfer into the West End". whatsonstage.com. WhatsOnStage. 12 March 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018. 
  52. ^ "Orlando Bloom to star in London revival of Killer Joe this summer". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018. 
  53. ^ "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. 
  54. ^ "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. 
  55. ^ "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. 
  56. ^ "Alfred Enoch and Alfred Molina to star in Red in London's West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 24 November 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  57. ^ "Christopher Hampton adaptation of Molière's Tartuffe to open in the West End". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2018. 
  58. ^ "The Wipers Times to return to the West End this autumn". londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre. 19 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′41″N 0°07′41″W / 51.51139°N 0.12806°W / 51.51139; -0.12806