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 Ridley Scott’s Napoleon. 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.

One of the debates raging around Netflix’s hit series The Crown is whether it represents the royal family accurately, and, related to that, whether it represents them sympathetically. You can see more royal drama in current West End hit Backstairs Billy, as well as musical icons The Four Seasons, Tina Turner and more in these riveting London shows.

Here are some of the best London shows based on real stories that you can book for now.

Jersey Boys - 750 - LT

Jersey Boys, Trafalgar Theatre

The clever premise for this bio-musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is that there isn’t just one story: there are four. That is, each band member gets to tell us their version of events — appropriate for a group eventually torn apart by rivalry, jealousy, and in-fighting.

Jersey Boys has everything in its rags-to-riches tale, including run-ins with the mob, plus an unbeatable back catalogue. Listen to “December 1963 (Oh What A Night,)” “Can't Take My Eyes Off You,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Beggin’,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and more.

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Six - 750 - LT

Six, Vaudeville Theatre

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, Aldwych Theatre

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.

Book Tina: The Tina Turner Musical tickets on London Theatre.

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Backstairs Billy - LT - 1200

Backstairs Billy, Duke of York's Theatre

We can’t resist a behind-the-scenes royal tale, whether it’s The Crown or this hilarious new play by Marcelos Dos Santos about the late Queen Mother and her devoted Page of the Backstairs, William “Billy” Tallon, starring Penelope Wilton and Luke Evans.

Michael Grandage’s sumptuous production gives us a rare glimpse of life at Clarence House, where Billy kept the Champagne flowing and made time stand still for the Queen Mother – but outside, the country was changing radically. This is a fascinating snapshot of a real but little-known story.

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Dear England - LT - 1200

Dear England, Prince Edward Theatre

He shoots, he scores! James Graham’s smash-hit National Theatre play about England manager Gareth Southgate is now a West End sensation. And no wonder: it’s not just a play about football and recent sporting history, but about national identity, mental health and so much more.

It’s also brilliantly entertaining, thanks to Graham’s witty script, Rupert Goold’s electrifying production, Es Devlin’s immense design, and a cracking team performance led by Joseph Fiennes as the quietly heroic Southgate – the man who radically shifted the culture of our national team. It’s an absolute corker.

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Just For One Day - LT - 1200x600

Just For One Day, Old Vic

The Live Aid concert in 1985 was an extraordinary moment in history: a day when music changed the world. Legendary figures like Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Status Quo, Diana Ross and Queen all joined forces to put on a simultaneous concert in England and America, raising millions for famine relief.

New musical Just For One Day, written by John O’Farrell and directed by Luke Sheppard, revisits this landmark event, and takes audiences back to the jaw-dropping spectacle of this one-in-a-generation line-up and amazing logistical feat – all for a worthy cause that should resonate particularly right now.

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The Enfield Haunting - LT - 1200

The Enfield Haunting, Ambassadors Theatre

In 1978, a seemingly ordinary family living in a council house in Enfield, in north London, was rocked by visitations from a poltergeist – or so they claimed. Was this a real supernatural occurrence, or an attention-seeking fabrication, or something else?

This story gripped the country, and is now set to haunt us again in a new play by Paul Unwin. Catherine Tate stars as single mum Peggy Hodgson, whose home has seemingly been invaded, while David Threlfall plays the paranormal expert who comes to investigate whether there really is a vengeful ghost.

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The Motive and the Cue - 1200 - LT

The Motive and the Cue, Noel Coward Theatre

Jack Thorne’s sizzling play transports us back to 1964, when Sir John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a Broadway production of Hamlet. But the real drama took place in the rehearsal room, as the two men locked horns – creating a fascinating portrait of acting, celebrity, class, daddy issues, addiction, sexuality, and a seismic shift in theatre.

Sam Mendes’s uproarious production, another transfer from the National to the West End, sees the acclaimed lead cast returning. Johnny Flynn plays Burton, Mark Gatiss is Gielgud, and Tuppence Middleton plays Burton’s glamorous new wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Book The Motive and the Cue tickets on London Theatre.

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