Overview of London Theatre
London has always had a rich and vibrant theatre scene made up of larger commercial West End venues as smaller off-West End and Fringe venues all showing different types of work ranging from large scale musical spectaculars, to intimate dramas.
West End Theatres
Despite the differences in size the West End contains the majority of London’s commercial theatres, staging a range of musicals and plays. From the world’s longest-running play The Mousetrap at the St. Martin’s Theatre, and West End musical legends like Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre or Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, to limited runs plays starring stars of stage and screen.
The majority of West End theatres are located in London’s West End, clustered around Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue, Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, and Charing Cross. There are some West End venues outside the traditional boundaries of the West End, including the Apollo Victoria Theatre and the Victoria Palace Theatre.
All West End theatres are conveniently located for public transport with tube stations all within walking distance, and mainline train stations located near to many as well. For more transport information for each venue, please select the venue’s details on our Theatres page, or for an overview see our Theatreland Map.
Theatre in the West End has always been a major draw for tourists across the world, with theatregoers from all over the world descending on the world's theatre capital, making a London theatre break the perfect way to experience the best shows.
See our West End theatre tickets page for all the information on the shows you can buy from LondonTheatre.co.uk.
Outside of the West End
Other than the West End’s commercial theatres London also has a host of theatres including The National Theatre (NT) and Shakespeare’s Globe. Both of these operate as repertory or ‘rep’ theatre companies, and have a selection of shows that are rotated every few days so you can see several shows in one week at the same venue, some shows featuring the same cast.
Both located on the South Bank of the Thames. With the National being a short walk from the West End, or the Globe being around a 45-minute stroll along the South Bank and making a perfect walk on a sunny day and passing by the Tate Modern Gallery, and taking in spectacular views of St Paul’s Cathedral and many other London Landmarks.
The National Theatre (NT) is subsidised, which means it can take a risk with new and unknown writers, and plays that may not appeal to a wide audience. Many successful productions which may not have otherwise been produced in the commercial sector have thrived here and then transferred to the West End and onto Broadway. The National Theatre houses three theatres, the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Dorfman.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a modern re-creation of the theatre run by William Shakespeare in the 16th Century. It celebrates Britain’s rich theatrical heritage mainly featuring Shakespearean plays, but also work from his contemporaries and other playwrights. The Globe season runs from April to September. However, outside of this time you can still visit the Globe and experience the Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition and Tour.
The Fringe and off-West End theatres
Smaller theatres, including many pub theatres, are now known as Off West End Theatres, particularly those located in the West End of London, where most of the big commercial theatres are. These venues can vary in size, with seating capacities of around 40 to 400.
Some off-West End venues work rivals that of their commercial counterparts – examples of these include the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, the Young Vic in Waterloo and the Almeida Theatre in Islington. These theatres produce a range of classic plays and new writing, which more often than not open to critical acclaim and many also feature major stars performing in some of the most intimate of venues.
The size of Fringe and Off West End theatres brings you very close to the action and can provide a more intimate experience than the larger West End theatres. You can see some superb plays in these theatres, and prices are much lower than those in the West End.
There are also some commercial theatres in London that are not West End or Fringe, like the Richmond and New Wimbledon theatres, which are generally classed as regional theatres which are located outside London. These theatres are mainly receiving houses for touring shows, which play for only a week or two.