The best comedies in the West End
From side-splitting farce to royal romps to dark comedies and much more, here are the London plays and musicals most likely to bring a smile to your face.
We all need a good laugh sometimes, and especially in the winter – it’s the perfect antidote to those long, cold, frosty nights. Happily, the West End is chock-full of uproarious comedies, which are bound to make you forget your troubles with their side-splitting slapstick or sizzling one-liners.
Mischief’s Goes Wrong franchise continues to make audiences howl with laughter, including original hit The Play That Goes Wrong and seasonal special Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Or perhaps you might like the right royal comedy Backstairs Billy – The Crown with more gags – or the incredible long-runner The Book of Mormon, still the most outrageous comedy in town.
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All the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society wants to do is put on its latest show, a 1920s country-house murder mystery in the Agatha Christie vein – but everything conspires against this hilariously beleaguered amateur drama troupe.
Cast members forget their lines or are knocked out cold, music cues are muddled, the doors stick, and, piece by piece, the entire set collapses around them – even as the cast try desperately to keep the show going. Their wrongdoings will have you crying with laughter.
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Marcelos Dos Santos gives us a sneak peek behind the scenes at Clarence House and offers a riveting new view of the late Queen Mother via her relationship with her devoted Page of the Backstairs, William “Billy” Tallon.
As portrayed by Luke Evans, the latter is a wickedly funny, flamboyant gay man, whose naughty sense of humour chimes with that of the Queen Mother – who just wants some fun. Add in high-wire farce involving a formal function and a phallic artwork, and this show is a right royal treat of a comedy.
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Why have one Mischief show in the West End when you can have two? Theatregoers have their pick of brilliantly catastrophic shows this Christmas, as Peter Pan Goes Wrong flies back into town – and promptly crashes.
Yes, this disaster-laden riff on JM Barrie’s classic tale about Peter, Wendy and their adventures in Neverland involves not just Cornley Society mayhem like flubbed lines and backstage rivalries, but the added craziness of wirework. It’s seasonal silliness galore.
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James Graham scored big-time with his cracking National Theatre show about England manager Gareth Southgate (played by Joseph Fiennes) and how he transformed the culture of our national football team – and transformed the country too.
Although it stealthily tackles big subjects like Englishness, masculinity and mental health, it's a rollicking ride in Rupert Goold’s hugely entertaining production, with a great cast wittily inhabiting all those iconic sporting figures. This is a great night out, whether or not you're footie mad.
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It’s the ultimate British nightmare. Peter and Debbie befriend a stranger on holiday, the brash American Elsa, and invite her to stay – and she actually turns up! Worse, she’s harbouring a dark secret. But how can they get rid of her politely?
Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat made a memorable theatre debut with this hysterical cringe comedy, directed by Mark Gatiss. It’s back by popular demand for an encore run, starring Lee Mack, Sarah Alexander, and Frances Barber.
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Michael Frayn’s peerless farce-within-a-farce is a timeless classic of British comedy. It follows an increasingly fractious theatre troupe as they tour a creaky sex farce around the country, all while dealing with much funnier dramas behind the scenes – which we see literally as the set flips around to show us the backstage.
This 40th-anniversary production, impeccably directed by Lindsay Posner, has an all-star cast that features Felicity Kendal, Alexander Hanson, Mathew Horne, James Fleet, Jonathan Coy, and Tamzin Outhwaite. It’s finishing soon, so make sure you don’t miss it!
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It’s the clash of the theatrical titans in Jack Thorne’s fascinating and often uproarious backstage play, which takes us into the rehearsal room where Richard Burton is preparing to give his Hamlet on Broadway in 1964, directed by Sir John Gielgud.
Their sparring is great fun, as is the juxtaposition between Burton's drink-fuelled Hollywood lifestyle (with new celebrity wife Elizabeth Burton) and Gielgud's frugal existence, as vividly illustrated in Sam Mendes’s production. Johnny Flynn and Mark Gatiss make a brilliant double act in this must-see meta-comedy.
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Last but definitely not least, The Book of Mormon is one of the most jaw-dropping comedies, full stop, in the West End or otherwise. Created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone and composer Robert Lopez (Frozen, Avenue Q), it’s a rip-roaring satire that takes no prisoners.
The musical follows two naïve and mismatched Mormon missionaries posted to a remote village in Uganda. It pokes fun at everyone, including the Mormons whose only knowledge of Africa comes from The Lion King, but it also shows a sweet friendship developing. The Book of Mormon is a madcap comedy with heart.
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