The West End is an area in Central London where tourist attractions, shops, and entertainment centres are found. Initially, the term West End was used to refer to the areas west of Charing Cross. For theatre fans the West End is the area where the highlight of their London visit can be found. West End shows are considered to be at the topmost level of commercial theatre, a distinction shared only by Broadway theatre of New York. There are approximately forty theatre venues in the main theatre district, as well as several others around or in the periphery of the West End. The popularity of West End theatre is proven by robust ticket sales and attendances year after year.
Here are five top long-running West End shows that we recommend:
St. Martin’s Theatre, West Street
2 hours and 20 minutes
The Mousetrap, a play by Agatha Christine, is considered the longest running show of any type in the world. It initially opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 1952, and transferred to St. Martin’s Theatre on March 1974 where it is currently playing. The Mousetrap is a murder mystery play with a very intricate plot and a twist ending. It is the play’s tradition that at the end of each performance, the audience is asked not to reveal the killer’s identity to ensure that future audiences’ enjoyment will not be spoiled.
Queen’s Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
3 hours (includes one interval)
Considered as the longest running musical production of all time, Les Mesirables opened at the Barbican Theatre in October 1985, transferred to the Palace Theatre in December 1985, and starting April 2004 opened at the Queen’s Theatre, its current home. Les Mesirables is a Cameron Mackintosh production of Boublil and Schönberg’s musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. Set in 19th century France, this powerful story of dreams, love, sacrifice, passion, and redemption has been performed in more than 34 countries and in 20 different languages, and has been made into a motion picture as well.
The Phantom of the Opera
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket Street
2 hours and 30 minutes (includes one interval)
Adapted from the novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera magically narrates the tragic and haunting love story between an opera singer and a deformed composer. The elaborate sets, costumes, special effects, and superb performances has transported millions of fans into the Phantom’s world since it opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on October 1986. This award-winning musical by Andrew Llyod Webber is definitely in the shortlist of the longest running musicals of all time, and has also been staged in more than 20 countries as well.
The Woman in Black
Fortune Theatre, Russell Street
1 hour and 50 minutes
An adaptation for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt from a book of the same name by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black is the second longest-running non-musical production in the West End. It first opened in the West End at the Strand Theatre (now called the Novello Theatre) on February 1989, and later moved to its current home at the Fortune Theatre on June 1989. A play within a play, it tells the story of a solicitor’s obsession that he and his family have been placed under a curse by a woman in black. Its longevity has been attributed to the intense and thrilling way the story unfolds as well as the relatively minimal budget needed to produce it (there are only two actors performing during the whole play).
Novello Theatre, Aldwych
2 hours and 45 minutes (includes one interval)
Mamma Mia! is a must-watch for all ABBA fans, although even those who have not heard a single ABBA song will find it delightful. This musical was written by playwright Catherine Johnson based on more than twenty ABBA songs. It tells several love stories: the love story of a girl about the get married, the story of her mother’s past loves, and the love that mother and daughter have for each other. More than 40 million people have watched the show since it opened, not including those that have watched its film adaptation. The musical opened on April 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre, transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004, and moved to its current home at the Novello Theatre in September 2012.