London’s West End hosts some of the world’s most prolific theatres, attracting international stars in a variety of high-profile productions. Some are known for their gorgeous interiors and comfortable seating, whilst others are notorious for offering terrible views of the stage. Below, we list our five favorite West End theatres based on the quality of their shows, casts, architecture, history and seating. And if you love reading about them, there’s plenty more information over at SeatPlan.com for you to brush up on your theatre history. So without further ado…
At number 5 is one of the West End’s smaller venues, best-known for hosting comedies and small-scale plays that attract a variety of audiences. Smaller, but by no means cramped, the Apollo Theatre has a rich history of light operas and entertainment, and has since become one of London’s most prolific venues, hosting a-list actors such as Rosamund Pike, James McAvoy, Stephen Fry and theatre legend Mark Rylance. Most recently, the Olivier Award-winning comedy Nell Gwynn, starring Gemma Arterton, wowed Apollo Theatre audiences, garnering five-star reviews from all of the top critics. Other acclaimed plays include Summer and Smoke, Richard III, Twelfth Night and the Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated Jerusalem.
A venue originally designed for musical comedies and operas, the Apollo Theatre has one of the West End’s more intimate auditoriums, which often ensures a good view from any seat in the theatre. A Grade II-listed building, the theatre has an exquisite interior, which makes for a delightful visit to the proscenium arch venue, which is decorated with golden embellishments and Grecian-style statues. Audience members often comment on affordable prices accompanied with excellent views of the stage, no matter where they are sat.
Currently, acting legend Michael Crawford stars in new musical The Go-Between, followed by children’s show Horrible Histories and the return of acclaimed festive farce Peter Pan Goes Wrong, simply displaying the huge variety of shows that arrive at the Apollo. Named after the Greek god of the Arts, Apollo, the theatre certainly lives up to the reputation.
Fun Fact: The Apollo Theatre’s Balcony was considered the steepest in the West End until it collapsed during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2013 (don’t worry, the theatre was restored!)
Following at number 4 is London’s most contemporary venue Trafalgar Studios, renowned for hosting revolutionary theatre that typically attracts star-studded casts. Most recently, the venue enjoyed a second season of ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ from acclaimed director Jamie Lloyd, which saw well-known productions modernised for younger audiences. Stars such as James McAvoy, Martin Freeman, Uzo Aduba, Gary Kemp and Simon Russell Beale have all graced the Trafalgar Studios stage in plays such as Macbeth, The Ruling Class, The Maids and The Homecoming.
An intimate yet contemporary venue, Trafalgar Studios is set in a semi-circle that curves around a small proscenium arch stage, with excellent views on offer throughout the modern auditorium. Sitting mid-centre can offer excellent views of the stage, whilst sitting towards the rear of the auditorium guarantees some bargain tickets accompanied by an amazing view! Seats are roomy and offer great legroom, proving that contemporary venues can often be much more comfortable.
Currently, Trafalgar Studios plays host to Hollywood star Jesse Eisenberg’s cutting comedy The Spoils, starring Eisenberg himself alongside Big Bang Theory star Kunal Nayyar, earning rave reviews from London audiences. Renowned for its starry casts and exciting new plays, Trafalgar Studios is the perfect stop for those who enjoy something slightly off-the-wall, that would not typically be found on London’s West End.
Fun Fact: Trafalgar Studios stage was elevated by 2 metres for Trafalgar Transformed, so that the actors’ feet are now above where their heads used to be.
Originally opening in 1889, the Garrick Theatre is one of the West End’s “newest” venues and was actually built to house comedies and melodramas. Now, the theatre is best-known for hosting a variety of plays and musicals such as Chicago, Pygmalion, Rock of Ages and Beatles tribute Let it Be. With a relatively small capacity of 732, the Garrick Theatre is built over the underground and you can occasionally hear trains pass by!
Rating this theatre at number 3, the Garrick Theatre has recently shot to the top of audience radars because of the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh Season at the Garrick. Starring Judi Dench, Lily James, Richard Madden, Rob Brydon and Branagh himself in a variety of revived productions, audiences have been grabbing tickets as if they are going out of fashion! A five-star revival of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale saw audiences flocking to the venue, selling-out within a few days. Then, the theatre saw Zoe Wanamaker and Branagh star in Terence Rattigan’s rarely-revived Harlequinade, followed by Adrian Lester’s shining performance in Red Velvet. Rob Brydon and Branagh also reprised their roles in Lyric Theatre Belfast’s The Painkiller, which had audiences in stitches.
Now, the Garrick Theatre sees Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet receive a 1950’s revival with Lily James and Richard Madden in the title roles, accompanied by Derek Jacobi and Meera Syal, with the season rounding off with Branagh starring as Archie Rice in The Entertainer, a role made famous by Laurence Olivier. Well-known for its high-calibre productions, the Garrick Theatre is often the go-to for die-hard theatre fans.
Fun Fact: The Garrick Theatre is said to be haunted by the ghost of former house manager Arthur Bourchier, who controlled the venue in the early 1900’s. One of the Garrick’s staircases reportedly houses the troublesome phantom…
Originally intended as a purpose-built venue for popular Waterloo production The Railway Children, the temporary King’s Cross Theatre has since transformed into one of the West End’s top theatres. A 1000-seated traverse theatre, King’s Cross is unlike any other venue on the West End and offers amazing reviews no matter where you are sat. With £15 ticket deals for students, the theatre seating faces audiences onto each other, either side of the stage.
The Railway Children features a real locomotive, whilst the theatre also plays host to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Olivier Award-winning musical In the Heights, which has been wowing audiences and critics, garnering five-star reviews. The best thing about King’s Cross Theatre is that due to its temporary nature (ie no plush seats and golden embellishments like typical London theatres), the venue completely transforms itself depending on the production. With seating named ‘Platform 1 & 2’, the theatre lends itself to The Railway Children, with a single track running right through the theatre and the bar turning into a rail station. However when In the Heights is on, the venue becomes the Barrio, pumping Latin music into the air with street signs directing you to your seats through the smoky air. King’s Cross Theatre is literally the only theatre on the West End that offers audiences a truly immersive experience.
Now, the King’s Cross Theatre plans to expand into a complex, including an 800-seat King’s Cross Theatre (South Entrance), which will host off-Broadway transfer Lazarus, the new musical written by megastar David Bowie and Enda Walsh. Fast becoming one of London’s top, most sought-after venues, we predict that this venue will soon no longer be just temporary.
Fun Fact: After the premiere of Hamilton, In the Heights extended twice due to popular demand and the fact that they are both written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
What else would be at number 1 other than the gorgeous Savoy Theatre? Commissioned in 1881 by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, the Savoy Theatre has since become synonymous with hosting high-calibre musical revivals that earn rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Renovated in 1929, the theatre now features a beautiful ceiling designed like a sky, with the seating like colourful flowerbeds underneath. London’s Savoy Theatre is easily the most beautiful venue in the West End!
Famous for Chichester Festival Theatre transfers, the Savoy Theatre has hosted Porgy and Bess, Carousel and Dreamboats and Petticoats and was the original venue for the UK version of hit musical Legally Blonde, starring Sheridan Smith. Further productions have included the concert-style Beatles tribute musical Let It Be, as well as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Robert Lindsay and Katherine Kingsley. Then came the multi Olivier Award-winning Gypsy, starring Imelda Staunton as Rose and Lara Pulver as Louise. Earning five-stars from every critic, Gypsy is arguably the venues most successful production to date.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Guys and Dolls soon followed, with the first premiere of Funny Girl since 1966 blazing its trail. The Savoy Theatre is also responsible for premiering future star Natasha J Barnes, who stepped in to the shoes of Fanny Brice after the show’s star Sheridan Smith left for a few weeks. Currently playing to sold-out audiences, the musical continues to impress night after night. Following Funny Girl is the revival of Dreamgirls, starring Amber Riley as the iconic Effie White, proving that the number of smash-hit musicals the Savoy can host is clearly never ending!
Fun Fact: The term ‘fairy lights’ is rumoured to have come from the special battery-powered tiaras in the Savoy Theatres 1882 production of Iolanthe.