West End Drama
London’s West End theatres
London’s West End is generally considered the best theatre district in the world. This may be due to the amount of history, the beautiful venues or simply the sheer talent of all the actors and production staff trained in London’s drama schools that are involved in putting on the shows. Whatever the reason, many millions of people enjoy West End shows every year.
Steeped in history
The first London theatre, simply called the Theatre, was built in Shoreditch, East London in 1576 and began a great tradition. The West End is now home to about 40 theatres, the oldest of which is the site of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, which was originally opened in 1663. The Globe Theatre is dedicated to William Shakespeare and built from the timbers of the Theatre. Its present incarnation is a reproduction built on the ruins of the 1598 original, which burnt down after just 15 years. The New Globe was completed in 1996 and is a faithful replica of the original building, seating 1,500 people.
A fantastic setting
Theatreland, as the West End has been rebranded, is traditionally bound by Oxford Street to the north, Kingsway to the east, the Strand to the south and Regents Street to the west, although many prominent London theatres, such as The National, The Old Vic and the Barbican, lie outside of this boundary. The architecture of theatres themselves is part of the attraction of a West End theatre visit; many are Victorian and Edwardian buildings, which are often privately owned with protected status to prevent major modernisation. The history and glamour of the theatre creates a great demand for drama classes, especially drama classes for kids who dream of being on the stage after watching the plays and musicals.
West End shows can run for many years; Mousetrap, which is an adaptation of an Agatha Christie play, is the longest running theatre show in the world, having opened in 1952. Musicals tend to run for longer than dramas with second, third and fourth longest running shows all being musicals too – Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Blood Brothers, respectively. There a number of famous non-commercial productions in London, which are usually not included under the West End umbrella as they are generally government funded. The Royal Opera House is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and is home to three resident performance companies, the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera and the symphony orchestra that is resident in the theatre. Three separate stages host these groups, as well as guests from around the world.
Something for everyone
The West End Theatreland attracts many famous actors due to its reputation and the high quality of directors and this in turn increases the popularity and interest of the plays in which they act. The historical setting and architecture of the theatres and of London in general are also an attraction in themselves; for many tourists a trip to London is not complete without taking in a West End show. The variety and quality of entertainment in the West End has kept visitors entertained for many hundreds of years; from the comedies of Shakespeare to the Lloyd Webber and Rice musicals, there is a huge variety of shows to suit everyone, whatever their taste.