Get the answers to all your questions regarding the West End!
There is no telling what might happen anytime you venture into London’s famed West End theatre district (AKA Theatreland, hence the name of the website). You may encounter some passionate young characters just trying to make their way into the entertainment scene, or you might spontaneously purchase some expensive tickets to a classic show at a beautiful, historic theatre.
The West End is a vibrant region of London that continues to deliver entertainment to people all over the world, but it isn’t just a hub for tourists to drop a few hundred pounds and call it a night. It is a veritable melting pot of talent and culture, offering promise and hope to many aspiring actors, producers, and audiences alike.
When you walk around the West End, you’ll immediately feel something magical about it. Whether you just want to buy a cheesy tourist sweatshirt or experience an edgy, controversial live performance, you’ll be able to do it. You don’t have to perfectly fit the mold when you come to the West End – this is a place where creativity thrives, and dreams find a way to come true, even if it takes years of grit and determination.
There are over forty theatres strewn around the West End, so you could watch performances for days until you couldn’t take it any longer. You may even see some of the same actors in different productions, pouring their heart and soul into every performance as they travel throughout the West End looking for their big break and trying to find their perfect character. For some artists, this is like a fairytale come true, allowing them to showcase their talents and live in a world that they have been passionate about since their youth.
For lovers of music and theatre, the West End is a playground with a diverse cast of buildings, people, and entertainment options. There is no age restriction on those who can enjoy the West End. Classics like the Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables can be seen on any night, but there is also a wide variety of independent, brand-new plays and musicals that are performed throughout the district, allowing you the opportunity to see whatever kind of show you like.
While many cities have a prominent theatre district, the West End is like no other. The history behind this area is untouchable, and the number of famous actors that have made it big from performances here is second only to New York’s Broadway, which is a different beast altogether. While Broadway is massive, flashy, and impressive, the West End has 250 more years of history which just gives it a more heartwarming and awe-inspiring feeling. It’s also far easier to obtain tickets for a reasonable price and to see a show of your choosing at any given time.
The West End is a vital experience for any resident or visitor to London. Even if you never see a play there, simply walking around and admiring the culture and history of it all is enough to send you home with a lifelong memory.
Ownership of the theatres in London is a confusing subject with a long history. You may think that each theatre is independently owned, or run by a small group of partners, but this is simply not true for most of the theatres in London. In fact, the majority of popular theatres in London’s West End are owned by major chains. Each of these chains own and operate several theatres throughout London and some even operate in other areas of the UK.
The four major groups to know about are Delfont Mackintosh Ltd, LW Theatres, Ambassador Theatre Group, and Nimax Theatres.
Delfont Mackintosh Ltd
This popular theatre chain was founded by Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Bernard Delfont in 1991. Shortly after Delfont’s passing in July of 1994, Mackintosh took over sole ownership of the group. There are seven theatres under the Delfont Mackintosh umbrella – Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Queens, Novello, Noel Coward, Wyndhams, and the Gielgud Theatres. Cameron Mackintosh has a strong passion for theatre and has remained dedicated to restoring and updating these theatres over the years that he has owned the company.
LW Theatres, formerly branded as The Really Useful Theatre Group, is the brainchild of world-renowned director and songwriter Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sir Webber’s group actually has several divisions, one for film, one for records, and one for theatres. LW Theatres currently owns and operates the Adelphi Theatre, Cambridge Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, London Palladium Theatre, New London Theatre, Palace Theatre, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
The Ambassador Theatre Group
Dubbed ATG for short, The Ambassador Theatre Group was formed in 1992 by Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire. The two have collaborated to create one of the largest theatre groups in the world, owning and operating over forty theatres throughout the United Kingdom. They also own ATG tickets, which has the distinction of being the largest ticketing company in the UK. Some of ATG’s theatres in the West End include Apollo Victoria Theatre, Harold Pinter Theatre, Donmar Warehouse Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Piccadilly Theatre, Playhouse Theatre, and Savoy Theatre.
Nimax is the smallest of these groups but still has plenty of clout in London. It is also the newest group, having been founded in 2005 by Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer. Weitzenhoffer previously owned the Vaudeville Theatre, and he brought it on board when the two joined in on this venture. They then bought four theatres from Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had plenty to sell. Nimax theatres include the Apollo Theatre, The Duchess Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Lyric Theatre, and Vaudeville Theatre. Burns and Weitzenhoffer remained committed to preserving the history of these theatres while keeping them in the best shape possible for both performers and audiences.
All of these theatre groups have done an excellent job in maintaining the integrity of their theatres, and theatre enthusiasts in London are lucky to have them operating at such high efficiency. For every ticket purchased to one of these theatres, a small levy is charged and this is put aside for restoration and renovation so that we may continue to enjoy their beautiful performances.
Going to the theatre can make for a fantastic night out, but it isn’t always the cheapest option. This is especially true if you want to head out to London’s West End, one of the most iconic and well-known theatre districts in the world. The truth is that the West End has very reasonable prices for their shows, especially when compared to other theatre districts such as Broadway, but there are still ways to secure tickets for an even lower price than what you might normally find.
If you aren’t too set on seeing a particular performance, you can stop by the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. They offer half-price and discounted tickets for a variety of same-day shows and even have some tickets that can be purchased up to a week in advance. If you don’t want to pay a premium for a sold-out show and are open to seeing something different, this is a great way to find cheap, legitimate tickets.
You can also try the ticket lottery, where you enter a drawing to see if you will be given the opportunity to purchase discounted tickets. There is no guarantee here, but you get a chance to see some of the hottest shows, including those that are sold out. If you are in London for an extended period, there is no limit to how many times you can play the lottery, increasing your chances of getting that hot ticket.
The days of strict dress codes at the theatre are long gone, so you can wear whatever you are comfortable in. You’ll notice a wide range of dress among different patrons, from t-shirts and jeans to full cocktail attire, but nobody will bat an eye as long as you dressed appropriately enough for any casual public event. If you are attending a premiere venue or a show that is happening on a holiday (such as New Year’s Eve), you may opt for formal attire to fit in with the crowd.
Most West End theatres offer afternoon matinee shows at least once or twice a week. The majority of showtimes start between 2:00 and 3:00pm. For information about a particular performance’s matinee showings, call the theatre or visit their website.
While some West End theatres are closed on Sunday, there are plenty that still show performances. To find out if you can see the show you want to on a Sunday, visit the theatre’s website or call the venue.
Seeing a show in the middle of the summer can make for a hot afternoon if there is no air conditioning. Many of the theatres in the West End are in historic buildings where it would be difficult to install a modern air conditioning system due to the size and available amenities and hookups. However, several of these have successfully installed air cooling systems, which are effective enough to keep the temperature at a tolerable level throughout the performance. The West End theatres that have modern air conditioning systems include:
- Criterion Theatre
- Donmar Warehouse
- National Theatre
- Noel Coward Theatre
- Novello Theatre
- Old Vic Theatre
- Playhouse Theatre
- Prince of Wales
- Savoy Theatre
- Theatre Royal Haymarket
- Trafalgar Studios
- Vaudeville Theatre
- Victoria Palace Theatre
London’s West End, despite its name, is located in Central London, north of the River Thames and West of historic and central business district of London. The West End usually refers to the entertainment districts of Leicester Square and Covent Garden, as well as the shopping centers along Oxford Street, Bond, Street, and Regent Street. Theatreland, where approximately 40 famous West End theatres call home, is located in the center of the West End, between The Strand to the south, Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west, and Kingsway to the east.
Getting to the West End from Central London is relatively easy, but you will most likely require the use of a bus, taxi, Tube, or bicycle. The nearest underground stations are Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden. If you are traveling throughout London, you should consider purchasing an Oyster card, as the Tube is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reach your destinations.
Despite its pedigree and high regard among theatre enthusiasts, the West End has very reasonable ticket prices. The average price of a West End in 2016 was £49.28. While that was an increase from the previous year, it is still far below the average for shows in many other international cities, including Broadway in New York. For those on a tight budget, tickets to some shows can be had for as low at £15. Premium seats may go for about £100, and special events may cost slightly more, but the prices are overall very affordable.
West End Live is a 2-day festival taking place in Trafalgar Square in June of every year. It is put together to celebrate the rich theatre culture of London’s West End, offering live performances from some of the West End’s most highly regarded actors and musicians. The event is free and requires no tickets, but it is first-come, first-serve, so it is important to line up early if you want to get a good spot in the crowd.
West End Live allows actors to perform on an outdoor stage in front of large crowd of adoring fans. It is truly an experience separate from your average night at the theatre, and it allows fans to take in multiple performances over the course of 2 days. Whether you are a theatre buff or simply want to experience something new, it is a fantastic festival offering plenty of fun.
The ticket lottery is a chance to secure cheap tickets for some of the West End’s most popular (and often sold-out) shows. Day lotteries take place about 2-3 hours before the performances. If you enter, you must be present for the drawing in order to win. If your name is drawn, you are given the opportunity to purchase two tickets at a heavily discounted rate.
There are also online lotteries that allow you to choose your preferred dates. They also offer two tickets to the winners at a discounted price.
The only way to get a refund for ticket is if the performance has been cancelled for any reason. However, West End theatres can attempt to resell your tickets for you. You will need to return the hard tickets to the box office. If the theatre is successful in finding a buyer for your tickets, you will be refunded for the cost of the ticket minus the booking or administrative fees.
You can also pay an extra £1.99 for Flexiticket, which allows you to change your booking or receive a voucher up to 3 days prior to the originally booked date.
Much like with the refunds, you cannot cancel your tickets to a performance. We will be happy to try to resell them for you, and if you purchase Flexiticket, you can receive a voucher up to 3 days prior to the event.
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