See incredible West End shows based on true stories

Discover the unbelievable true stories throughout history now immortalised in West End shows, from Six to the Tina Turner musical.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction, making for fantastic drama. Just look at Hollywood’s fondness for a biopic, like Bradley Cooper’s Maestro or the latest Amy Winehouse movie. Even if we’ve read countless history books or articles, we can’t resist viewing these figures again through the lens of fiction.

Of course, there’s a long tradition of translating true stories for the theatre. Shakespeare’s canon is the prime example, teeming with actual historical figures like Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and numerous kings of England. Although Shakespeare also illuminates one of the interesting facets of this genre: the dramatist’s bias may well shape our opinion of events.

Make up your own mind about everyone from monarchs and famous authors to musical icons such as Tina Turner in these riveting productions. Check out some of the best London shows based on real stories that you can book for now.

Six - 750 - LT


Welcome to the show, to the historemix! Women take centre stage in Six, the revolutionary Tudor musical that everyone's losing their heads over. Throughout the 80-minute musical, Henry VIII's six wives each take to the mic to sing about what happened with Henry VIII and why they had it worst.

Plenty happened to these six women: the creation of the Church of England and failed overseas marriages all took place during Henry's reign. At the start, the women bicker and try to one-up one another. By the end, they all come together in a fabulous display of girl power – and a triumphant reclaiming of the narrative.

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Tina the Musical - LT - 750

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Another great trailblazing woman — and survivor — is Tina Turner. Hear her compelling extraordinary story in this high-voltage West End musical. Follow Tina from humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, through to fame: first with her abusive husband Ike Turner, and then reborn as a solo artist and rock star.

It makes it all the more thrilling to hear Tina Turner’s huge hits, now part of her narrative – from “A Fool in Love,” “River Deep Mountain High,” and “Proud Mary,” to “Private Dancer,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” and “The Best.” And, thanks to the fantastic cast, you’ll feel like you’re seeing the real icon on that stage.

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A Chorus Line - LT - 1200

A Chorus Line

Part of why this backstage musical is so affecting, and enduring, is that it’s inspired by the real-life stories of hard-working dancers. Director and choreographer Michael Bennett taped interviews with numerous performers, and then did workshops combining their experiences into one cohesive show.

A Chorus Line covers everything from absent parents and the woes of puberty to a cruel acting teacher and, infamously, a paean to plastic surgery. That also makes it hugely relatable, even to those of us with two left feet – as well as giving us a tantalising peek behind the curtain.

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Brian Cox and Patricia Clarkson long days journey 1200 LT credit Johan Persson.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Eugene O’Neill drew on his own family for his masterwork about the desperately unhappy Tyrone clan. They also had a home in Connecticut, and his father, like the play’s patriarch, was once a promising actor. Both older brothers, in life and in fiction, had severe drinking problems, and O’Neill himself is like the character Edmund: a burgeoning artist who suffers from tuberculosis.

That lends authenticity to this mighty drama, and also a notable empathy for all of its characters – as you can see in the superb current West End production featuring Brian Cox, Patricia Clarkson, Laurie Kynaston, Daryl McCormack, and Louisa Harland.

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Richard III - LT - 1200

Richard III

One of the more controversial takes on a real figure is Shakespeare’s version of Richard III, in which he makes the monarch a bloodthirsty, ruthlessly ambitious villain. It’s interesting to see how contemporary actors and directors choose to deal with that framing – and we’re getting a new one this summer at the Globe.

Artistic director Michelle Terry stars as Richard – a casting that has also provoked discussion around the portrayal of characters with a disability by able-bodied actors. However, Terry has emphasised that this production is focussed on Richard the tyrant, a man who abuses his power, and how that chimes with audiences in a vital election year.

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The Marilyn Conspiracy - LT - 1200

The Marilyn Conspiracy

Marilyn Monroe has proved a hugely popular subject for dramatists, with numerous biopics and shows referencing the legendary actress. Now we can add to that list a new thriller by Vicki McKellar that digs into the murky circumstances surrounding her tragic early death.

It was on Sunday 5 August that Monroe’s apparent suicide by drug overdosed was reported to the police. But McKellar’s play lays bare the alleged shocking truth: that she was actually found unconscious the night before, and that several people were involved in a conspiracy to conceal what really happened to this Hollywood icon.

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Vanessa Williams as Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada – Photo credit Matt Crocket

The Devil Wears Prada

In 2003, Lauren Weisberger published her novel about a personal assistant who has the boss from hell: a nightmarishly demanding fashion magazine editor. It was supposedly fictional, but everyone knew that Weisberger had worked as an assistant to the formidable American Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

That delicious tell-all story became a great Hollywood movie, with Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the thinly disguised Wintour figure. Now West End audiences can enjoy a fabulous stage musical version, with music by Elton John and Vanessa Williams inhabiting that diva boss. Gird your loins!

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MJ The Musical - LT - 1200

MJ The Musical

The King of Pop has given us some of the greatest songs ever written – “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller” – and ground-breaking dance routines to go with them, plus he blazed a trail for Black artists. But he also endured a tough childhood with a bullying father, and had a troubled personal life.

No wonder Michael Jackson is such a gripping subject for a stage musical, and both the man and the artist are brilliantly showcased in Christopher Wheeldon’s electrifying production. The Tony-winning Myles Frost is particularly remarkable, bringing Jackson to life in his note-perfect performance.

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4 cabaret-1200x600-NYTG


Did you know that Sally Bowles was based on a real person? Christopher Isherwood visited Berlin during the dying days of the Weimar Republic, and there he befriended the colourful cabaret performer and flapper Jean Ross – who, as in the musical, became his roommate, sang in dingy clubs, and later had an abortion.

While the show’s other characters are fictional, they represent a very real moment in history, as Nazism decimated Germany’s short-lived era of sexual and artistic freedom. Rebecca Frecknall’s immersive, multi-Olivier-winning production plunges audiences into both the decadence and the creeping horror.

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Giant logo - LT - 1200


The “cancel culture” debate around how we handle artists with problematic views or behaviour is as febrile as ever, which should make Mark Rosenblatt’s debut play a fiery, provocative and much talked-about premiere.

John Lithgow plays the world-famous children’s author Roald Dahl, around the time that he’s publishing The Witches, but also being criticised for writing an anti-semitic article. Nicholas Hytner directs this show based on real events; the cast also features Elliot Levey.

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