The arrival of the King Charles II in 1660 had seen the initial growth in Theatres. He issued patents to two theatres to be able to produce serious drama. The Royal Opera House and the Royal Theater won these rights and together created a monopoly where all plays staged in London had to be done so in one of these two venues. The other venues were able to play musical productions but the drama restriction lasted until the 19th century. This however did not stop new Theatres from being built. There was plenty of music Hall entertainment available and it was this form of entertainment that was getting the audiences through the doors and even with the Patents Act in place, new theatres continued to open.
In the early 19th century both the Adelphi and Old Vic Theatres both opened. These were both small theatres but both reflected the growing demand for Londoners to be entertained in the evenings. The industrial Revolution had created more people with disposable income that could be used on these types of evening entertainments. In 1843 the Theatres Act was passed which reversed the Patents Act, which made it legal for any theatre to stage a serious play. This preempted another surge in the creation of Theatres with the Vaudeville, the Criterion and the Savoy Theatres all being built by 1881. The theatres were all being located in what today is known as London’s West End.
This new “theatre land’ started to get a reputation around the rest of the country, and even the world, of hosting the best productions. Its positive image was self-perpetuating with the best writers wanting to have their plays and musicals staged in the West end. The best artists wanted to be in the productions and so the quality of the performances in the area just got better and better. This resulted in theatres selling out regularly which meant that the financial rewards to all of those involved in the productions were high and this one again enhanced the areas popularity. From these successful productions spin off industries also benefited. Costume production and stage design were two areas that flourished, and many companies based them elves in the area to take advantage of the business opportunities.
Today there are 38 theatres that are operational in London’s West End. Many are either Edwardian or Victorian in their construction, and their architectural beauty adds to the skyline of the capital. However they are rather cramped as each theatre has attempted to maximize capacity over the years and there is no space left in this busy part of London for them to expand into. Many shows that appear in the West End ca continue for a long period. The longest running production in the world is the Mousetrap which first appeared in 1952 and after 25,000 performances is still running today. It started in the Ambassadors Theatre but in 1974 it transferred to the St Martin’s Theatre where it is still running today.
The longest running musical in the West End is Les Miserables which is currently showing in the Queens Theatre. If first opened in 1985 at the Palace Theatre and transferred to its current location in 2004 where it is still going today. Its success in the West End saw it be made into a successful film in 2012. The Largest theatre in the West End is the London Palladium. Built in 1910 the 2,286 seat theatre is one of the country’s most famous theatres. It has hosted the Royal Variety Performance on 41 occasions. This events is televised across the nation so the theatre is one of the most famous in the country.
London’s West End has grown over the years and each day sees a pilgrimage of thousands of spectators to view a show that is being performed at one on the many theatres. London has a vast tourist industry and for the majority of visitors to the capital, their trip is not complete without going to the theatre to watch a show.