The top 10 West End plays a theatregoer needs to read
Ranging from old texts to contemporary pieces of writing, the West End is home to performances of some of the greatest literary feats. Whether it’s some of William Shakespeare’s works brought into the present day or a stage adaptation of a modern-day classic, there are West End plays for everyone to get their teeth stuck into in Theatreland. Curl up with a blanket, a hot drink and get stuck into reading these texts that are sure to draw you in hook, line and sinker just like their stage counterparts do. Who knows, you may even want to book tickets for these productions once you’ve finished reading them.
Plays you need to read
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Two households, both alike in dignity…
The start of William Shakespeare’s iconic love story has entranced audiences for centuries. Written in 1597, this tragic love story tells of two teenagers desperate to stay in love amidst their feuding families who do their utmost to keep them apart. Regularly performed across the capital, don’t miss the return of Romeo and Juliet in the latest season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Immersing the audience into the world of Grover’s Corners, Our Town was first performed in 1938 on Broadway and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A tale of small-town families cohesively living and working with and around each other, the production is presented simplistically, with a lack of props and set on stage. Inspired from his childhood in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Our Town looks at how daily live, love and death can affect us all.
As well as writing Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker is the inspiration behind Hello, Dolly!, returning to the West End in 2020. Don’t miss out on this Golden Age musical and book your tickets now!
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Performed at the turn of the twentieth century in London, The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde’s comedic West End plays. Set across the capital and neighbouring countries, audiences meet Algernon Moncrieff, a young man whose friend Ernest is set to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, a local wealthy member of society. All about the upper class, the play is a story that balances social expectations and “how the other half live”. This play was last seen in the West End in 2018 at the Vaudeville Theatre, starring Fiona Button and Pippa Nixon.
See a two-man adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Turbine Theatre.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
A prolific 20th-century American laureate, Arthur Miller’s play are entertaining, engaging and tackle real life in a dramatised fashion. The story centres around Willy Loman as he enters old age, adamant that he deserves an easy retirement due to working hard all his life. However, his graft has failed to translate into happiness, leaving Willy Loman to struggle with the fact that he won’t be able to achieve what he had wanted. Sharon D Clarke and Wendell Pierce will star in the West End revival at the Piccadilly Theatre. Want to find out more about Arthur Miller? Read our guide filled with information all about the playwright.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Initially published in 1982, Michael Morpurgo’s World War One book has been adapted into one of the 21st century’s biggest West End plays. First staged in 2007 at the National Theatre, it’s won Olivier Awards and Tony Awards, ran at the Gillian Lynne Theatre for seven years and features critically-acclaimed puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company that brings the heartwarming story of Albert and Joey to life.
Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
First performed at the Royal Court over 30 years ago, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is staged at the National Theatre for the first time in the Lyttleton. With an optimistic spirit festering in the country, nothing can anything get Marlene down, now she’s head of an employment agency? Katherine Kingsley leads the cast in a wildly innovative play about a country divided by its ambitions.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
First performed in 1962, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has gained a great theatrical legacy, assisted with the 1966 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When a middle-aged couple’s marriage begins to break down, they become closer to a younger couple who are infatuated with each other. When the foursome are quarrelling with each other, it’s clear that every relationship takes a strain in this fiery text. Albee’s best-known text was last performed in the West End in 2017, starring Imelda Staunton and Luke Treadaway.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams is often labelled as one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century, proven by this 1947 play that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a year later. Concerned with Blanche DuBois, the story follows her as she moves in with her sister Stella and Stella’s abusive husband Stanley. Depending on the kindness of strangers, Blanche lives with the pair through good and bad times, even though Stanley displays moments of questionable behaviour. A Streetcar Named Desire was first performed in Britain in 1949 and was most recently performed at the Young Vic in 2014 with Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby in the cast.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
One of the most controversial West End plays of the 20th century, Waiting for Godot may not be the easiest read or show to follow. However, from the confusion lies the intrigue surrounding the play, which went on to change the course of theatre. When two tramps, Didi and Gogo are waiting for a man named Godot, they’re stuck on finding Godot as they don’t know what he looks like. Continuing to wait for the elusive Godot to appear, it’s up to audience members to visit the show to find out whether waiting for Godot is indeed successful. Patrick O’Donnell, Paul Kealyn, Nick Devlin and Conor Donelan starred in the 2017 production at the Arts Theatre, which ran for a limited engagement throughout September. One thing’s for sure, you don’t want to wait for Godot to get your hands on reading this story.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Kushner’s two-part play of Angels in America is a dramatic feat. Millennium Approaches was the first of the two plays to be performed in 1991, before its counterpart Perestroika premiered the year after. The double bill zooms in on America during the 1980s in the middle of the AIDS crisis, as well as life during the Reagan administration and how the residents of New York City cope with their newly found lifestyles. In 2017, Angels in America was one of the hottest tickets in town; with a cast including Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Denise Gough and Russell Tovey, it’s no surprise why. The revival went on to win best revival at the 2018 Olivier Awards, thrusting audiences into the heart of this era.