The top ten oldest West End theatres
For over 350 years, theatregoers have travelled to the West End in the hopes they’ll see a brand-new, brilliant show they’ll remember forever. Currently, there’s 39 West End theatres with shows on year round. Find out which theatre takes the title of being the oldest West End theatre. How many have you visited?
The oldest West End theatres
10. Playhouse Theatre, 1882
Although the Playhouse Theatre was built in 1882, the West End venue didn’t see a play on its stage for another 25 years. The Drums of Oudh goes down in history as the first show staged at the Playhouse, starting a history of classic plays at the theatre including productions of Jane Eyre, Three Sisters and The Rocky Horror Show. During its history, the intimate theatre has been used as a BBC studio, a concert venue and has been refurbished multiple times. In recent years, the Playhouse Theatre has been home to a Fiddler on the Roof revival.
9. Savoy Theatre, 1881
Just beating the Playhouse Theatre to ninth place, the Savoy Theatre was built on London’s Strand in 1881. In a history over 120 years, it’s been home to the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, however it’s been refurbished and restored twice; the latest being after a 1990 fire obliterated everything bar the stage. In recent years, plenty of Broadway musicals including Funny Girl, Guys and Dolls and Cabaret have been performed on its stage.
8. Harold Pinter Theatre, 1881
Built in the same year as the Savoy Theatre, the Harold Pinter Theatre is currently named after the British playwright, but did you know the theatre’s name changed in 2011? Originally called the Comedy Theatre, the nineteenth-century theatre opened in 1881 with The Mascotee, a comic opera that lived up to the building’s name. Moving away from operatic productions, the Harold Pinter Theatre has seen stars of stage and screen tread the board, thanks to the 2018 Pinter at the Pinter season and Ian McKellen bringing his octogenarian celebrations to the West End.
7. Criterion Theatre, 1874
Once the site of a 17th-century pub, the Criterion Theatre was later built on the central London site in 1874. To combat Victorian safety regulations, fresh air had to be pumped into the auditorium to allow theatregoers to breathe! Thankfully, that’s not the case now, with the Criterion being home to groundbreaking productions including The 39 Steps, A Little Bit of Fluff and French Without Tears, all running for over 1000 performances.
6: Vaudeville Theatre, 1870
While the current Vaudeville Theatre open today has been on the Strand since 1926, did you know it’s the third theatre to have been built on the site? Originally built in 1870, the Vaudeville’s been rebuilt to allow more theatregoers to watch a performance together, making it a great place to watch a comedic play or dramatic play. In recent years, comedians including Bill Bailey and Paul Merton have performed their stand-up routines at the Vaudeville, as well as revivals including True West and The Importance of Being Earnest. Now, it’s the home of Magic Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre’s spellbinding affair.
5: Lyceum Theatre, 1834
Best known as being the home of the West End production of The Lion King for over 20 years, the Lyceum Theatre has invited audiences through its door for over 180 years. In the site’s history, it’s been home to the English Opera House, a 1930s cinema and a waxwork exhibition led by Madame Tussaud. But, since the theatre was refurbished in 1996, it’s been home to three musicals: Jesus Christ Superstar, Oklahoma! and The Lion King.
4: Adelphi Theatre, 1806
Although the Adelphi Theatre you can visit today only opened its doors in 1930, did you know it’s the fourth theatre on its site? Originally named the Sans Pareil, the venue opened in 1806 as a theatre specialising in pantomimes. However, the ‘Sans Pareil’ was only kept for 13 years and renamed the Adelphi Theatre which it has been ever since.
3: Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1720
One of the West End’s grandest venues, the first theatre built on the site of the Theatre Royal Haymarket was in 1720. However, it took just over a century for a play to be staged there, with Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals going down in the history books as the first play to be performed at the Haymarket venue. Year round, audiences can expect to see musicals, plays and conversations take place on stage, with critically-acclaimed plays including One Man Two Guvnors finding their West End home here. Only Fools and Horses The Musical is currently at Theatre Royal Haymarket.
2: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 1705
Even though Her Majesty’s Theatre as Londoners know it today has only been around since 1897, a venue has stood on the Haymarket ground from 1705, making it the second-oldest West End venue. It’s also the theatre of the second longest-running musical, with The Phantom of the Opera continously performed from 1986, but record-breaking productions of Chu Chin Chow, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof have been seen by theatregoers.
1: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1663
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane holds the title of the oldest West End theatre. But there’s renovation works at the theatre currently, in preparation for the West End premiere of Frozen. The first theatre on the site opened on 7th May 1663, destroyed by a fire nine years later. A second and third theatre were built, until the current theatre that stands today, built in 1812. In recent years, musicals including Oliver!, Shrek the Musical and 42nd Street have all found their home on the lane…