The eight longest running West End plays ever
While the West End has a vibrant culture of staging a variety of different plays throughout, occasionally, one must-see hit will stick around longer than its counterparts. Here are eight of the longest-running plays ever to run in the West End, and why they were so successful.
8: There’s A Girl in my Soup (March 1966 – 1973)
Running for seven years, There’s A Girl in My Soup racked up thousands of performances at the Gielgud Theatre later transferring to the then-named Comedy Theatre. Set in the 1960’s, the play tells the story of Danvers, a television chef falling for Marion, a girl half his age. With Marion seeing her ex-boyfriend Jimmy and Danvers at the same time, Danvers is left bereft.
The play was adapted into a film in 1970, starring Goldie Hawn as Marion. The film was well-received, with the playwright Terence Frisby winning a Writers Guild of Great Britain award.
7: War Horse (3rd April 2009 – 12th March 2016)
Playing at the National Theatre then later transferring to the New London Theatre in 2009, War Horse dramatised the Michael Morpurgo novel in this Olivier Award-winning production. With puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company, actors and puppets were on stage as one, producing a show that brought the battles of World War One to the London stage.
The story tells the adventures of Albert, a young boy whose horse Joey was sold to fight in the war. Trying to get him home, Albert risks his life to travel to the trenches and go back to Britain with Joey. The play is a real tear-jerker, showing the love between humans and animals in a situation where Albert is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Directed by Marianne Elliott, the original National Theatre and West End cast starred Game of Thrones star Kit Harington as Albert, with many actors taking on different parts of Joey to breathe human life into the puppet. Using life-size puppets helped make the play stand out, and the show eventually ran for over 3,000 performances.War Horse returns to the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in October 2019, as the first production at this north London venue.
6: Run For Your Wife (29th March 1983 – 14th December 1991)
Playing at five West End theatres throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Run For Your Wife was packed with slapstick action. The play tackled topics of bigamy and general relationship issues in a comedy that relied on precision and starred Bernard Cribbins and Richard Briers.
John Smith is a London taxi driver. He’s living a double-life, one in Streatham and one in Wimbledon. With a different wife for each life, he has to ensure that these paths don’t cross. When he’s caught in a mugging case, John’s ability to live two lives without them merging into each other comes crumbling down, and the secrets unravel in a comedy where he has to tread very carefully when approaching the subject of bigamy.
The play was later adapted for film in 2012, starring Danny Dyer in the lead role. It did not receive the same level of success grossing £602 in the opening weekend.
5: The 39 Steps (14th September 2006 – 5th September 2015)
On at the Criterion Theatre for just under nine years, The 39 Steps only had a cast of four people but it packed a punch! With inspiration from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, the play’s protagonist Richard Hannay is caught up in a spy organisation and accused of murdering a counter-espionage agent. Lots of Alfred Hitchcock references throughout the dialogue made for a hilarious production that won the award for best new comedy at the 2007 Olivier Awards.
Whether it’s the silliness on stage or the four cast members trying to play 139 roles between them, audiences left the show in fits of giggles until it closed on 5th September 2015.
4: Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged (7th March 1996 – 3rd April 2005)
Compiling the entire works of William Shakespeare into one production may seem like a tough feat, but not for the members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. For nine years, The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged parodied Shakespearian favourites from Romeo and Juliet to Julius Caesar and Hamlet.
The actors played themselves, rather than specific characters and continually breaking the fourth wall to get at the audience throughout the entire show. With popular culture references and audience participation, the show was fast-paced and energetic, making light of the Bard’s work.
The show holds the world record for the shortest performance of Hamlet, compressing the entire show into 43 seconds!
3: No Sex Please, We’re British (3rd June 1971 – 16th January 1987)
You wouldn’t believe that accidentally sending pornography to a British bank would be the plot to one of the longest-running plays in the West End, but it’s true. No Sex Please, We’re British concerned Peter Hunter, an assistant bank manager whose wife receives Scandinavian pornography in the mail by mistake. When deciding what to do with the explicit material, many people try to help the couple including Peter’s mother, his boss and a police officer, but each idea makes the couple even more confused.
Running for 16 years across the Strand, the Garrick and the Duchess Theatres for over 6,500 performances, the play was loved by British audiences. It became the basis for a film of the same name, starring Ronnie Corbett and tapping into British attitudes around sex and pornography.
2: The Woman in Black (7th June 1989 – current)
Opening in June 1989, The Woman in Black continues to scare audiences as the ghost story written by Susan Hill came to life in this stage adaptation. While there may only be two cast members, its combination of horror, ghostly goings-on and impeccable acting continues to entertain audiences today.
In the play, Arthur Kipps travels to Eel Marsh House to settle the estate of Mrs Alice Drabow after her death. Discovering a box of letters, the secret of the Woman in Black comes to light, and the whole estates becomes a little bit spookier.
Now in its 30th year in the West End, the production has played in four London theatres, before residing at the Fortune Theatre where it has enjoyed a continuous run at the venue since August 1989. Originally labelled as a “Christmas ghost story”, audiences enjoy the thrilling play year-round.
1: The Mousetrap (25th November 1952 – current)
Making its premiere in 1952 and still running to this day, not only is The Mousetrap the longest running play in the West End but the longest running production in the world! Celebrating over 27,500 performances and watched by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Agatha Christie’s story from the golden age of detective fiction is a beloved show in London.
In the show, five guests arrive at a country hotel to later find out there’s a murderer on the loose. This relaxing time away turns into solving out the murderer’s identity, where the guests are later examined to find out who the killer is. Solving the crime, audiences are asked not to reveal who the killer is, so the play isn’t spoiled. Want to know who the murderer is? You’ll need to book your ticket for this show that’s over 65 years old.
Since 23rd March 1974, The Mousetrap audiences have come to the St Martin’s Theatre to become a part of West End history and watch the show that thoroughly deserves its title as the longest running play in the West End.
Will any show ever beat The Mousetrap‘s record and become the longest-running play in the West End?
Take a read of the longest-running musicals ever in London.