One of the great thrills of a theatre break in London’s West End is the reaction of the audience – nothing feels better than laughing along with hundreds of people at the same time, a good cathartic group cry, or a tide of clapping hands in a huge standing ovation. A big theatre can only enhance the experience, but just how much do you know about London’s West End theatres?
Did you know that only five of the West End’s theatres can hold more than 2000 audience members, and only a select few shows could possibly hope to bring in enough theatre-lovers night after night to justify all that space?! If you fancy yourself as a bit of a West End Wizard, or simply want satisfy your curiosity, read on to find out what the five biggest West End theatres are…
The London Palladium
Capacity: 2286 Opened: 1910
The biggest, and arguably most famous, theatre on our list is the iconic London Palladium. Best-known as the home of the Royal Variety performance and ITV’s legendary TV show Sunday Night at The London Palladium, the venue has a long and rich history of special performances by big-name stars. Since the early 1990s, it has played host to a number of successful musicals, including Oliver!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music. Iconic show, The King and I returns to the West End at the Palladium later this year. Tony Award-winning, Kelli O’Hara and Tony and Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe reprise their roles from the Broadway Lincoln Center Theater’s production in what is tipped to be the theatre event of 2018.
Apollo Victoria Theatre
Capacity: 2208 Opened: 1930
Originally opened as a cinema in 1930, the Apollo Victoria is the youngest on our list of the five biggest West End theatres. The Grade II-listed building has a distinctive Art Deco design, and a nautically-themed interior. It didn’t become a musical theatre venue until the early 1980s, but has since played host to the phenomenally successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express, between 1984 and 2002.
Now home to the blockbuster of a Broadway transfer Wicked, the theatre is perhaps one of the few that could meet the demand for this endearingly-popular musical. Playing since September 2006, Wicked has established itself as one of London’s longest-running shows in its time at the Apollo Victoria.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Capacity: 2196 Opened: 1663
The oldest London theatre still in use, the Grade I-listed Theatre Royal Drury Lane has had an eventful past. Rebuilt no less than four times, it was originally the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, but renamed the Theatre Royal Drury Lane when it was rebuilt the first time by Sir Christopher Wren in 1674. Since World War Two, the theatre has been home to several long-running musicals including Oklahoma! (1947-1953), My Fair Lady (1958-1963) and Miss Saigon (1989-1999). The theatre currently hosts legendary musical 42nd Street, and its vast size is perfect for the huge cast of the show.
The Lyceum Theatre
Capacity: 2100 Opened: 1834
The Grade II-listed Lyceum Theatre has a fascinating history; once home to a Victorian circus, the original display of Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, and The English National Opera, the original building appeared in 1765 but was destroyed by a fire. Rebuilt in its current position in 1834, the Lyceum has since been everything from a popular Shakespearean theatre to a Mecca Ballroom. Restored in 1996, it has been home to musical productions since.
From 1999 onwards the theatre has been home to Disney’s The Lion King, probably the West End’s most successful family-friendly show ever and the longest-running show in our list of the top five biggest West End theatres.
The Dominion Theatre
Capacity: 2069 Opened: 1929
Set a little outside the main West End drag, The Dominion Theatre was opened on Tottenham Court Road in 1929. With a capacity nearer 3000 in the early 1940s, the theatre closed briefly during the Blitz, but has been a popular concert and musical theatre since. Judy Garland famously played a month-long run of shows here in 1957. More recently, for twelve years the theatre packed in audiences for the Queen musical We Will Rock You, to date its longest-running show.
Having recently hosted An American in Paris the Dominion will soon welcome the West End return of Bat Out of Hell – The Musical. Directed by the award-winning theatre and opera director Jay Scheib, this rock ‘n’ roll musical features many of the songs from the world-famous “Bat Out of Hell” albums with hits including ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’, ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth’, ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ and ‘Bat Out of Hell’, plus many more.
Visiting one of the biggest West End theatres this year? Tell us what you’re off to see in our comments section below!