In the West End on any one day of the year there are a huger variety of shows being performed. Some of these shows may have been writers for whom it will be the only time that a piece of their work will only ever appear in the West End. For other it is a regular occurrence and they have somehow adopted the knack of being able to write either great plays or musicals. There is no greater writer whose plays have been produced repeatedly in the West End than William Shakespeare. He wrote 39 plays and many of these today are seen in productions around the world. In the early times these were often seen at the original Globe Theatre in Shoreditch, from 1592, of which he was a patron of himself.
Shakespeare’s plays have stood the test of time and his tragedies Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth are regarded as some of the finest works in the English Language. Classical actors and directors have been keen to be associated with such productions over the years. This historical background of the plays means that a new Shakespeare production in the West End will attract the best directors and the most talented cast. This will often lead to a fine performance, wonderful reviews from the critics, which will result in packed audiences and a successful show.
The most popular Shakespeare play over the years has been Hamlet. Its quality has resulted in the industry’s top actors queuing up to play the lead role as it such a rewarding, yet demanding part. John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Ralph Fiennes and Benedict Cumberbatch have all played Hamlet and the role has had a major impact on their careers. One of the most popular modern day writers in the West End is Alan Ayckbourn who has had 40 of his plays performed in “Theatre Land”. He has actually written over 70 plays, of which all but four have had their first performance in the Stephen Joseph Theatre, in Scarborough. From here the vast majority of the plays have made their way onto one of the West End Stages.
His plays have proved so popular that ten of them have made their way across the Atlantic to be performed on New York’s Broadway. He has won seven Evening Standard Awards, one Tony Award and the Laurence Olivier Award. Despite his phenomenal success he remains relatively unknown outside of the theatre world. It would appear that he will only receive the acclaim that his writings so richly deserves, when he is no longer with us, but this is the same with many playwrights. As well as serious theatre being popular with talented writers, the same is true with the musicals and there has been no more abundant writer of musicals in the West End than Andrew Lloyd Webber. He has composed 13 musicals, with several of them having run for more than a decade both in the West End and on Broadway.
The strength of his musical scores has been proved by many of the records going on to achieve chart success. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” are two such songs that topped the charts adding gravity to the quality of the stage productions. His early life saw him emerge from a classical background and he teamed up with Tim Rice for his early productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Evita” and “Joseph Christ Superstar”. This early success was only halted when the duo broke up at the end of the 1970s with Rice going on to carry on writing with Alan Menken, Elton John and Benny Anderson. With now Lloyd Webber working mainly on his own he went on to write a number of smash hit musicals. “Starlight Express” “Cats”, “Sunset Boulevard” and “Phantom of the Opera” all had runs in the West End for over a decade. “Phantom of the Opera” is the second largest running musical in the West End and the longest running one on Broadway.
His successes have led to numerous awards including seven Tony Awards, three Grammys and an Academy Award.