Do you think you know which are the biggest West End theatres? Judging from the highest profile exteriors you might say the Palace theatre where Les Miserables ran for years, and more recently Priscilla and now Singin’ In The Rain. When a new show announces a move into the Palace, you know they are hoping to fill a lot of seats. The Shaftesbury Theatre looks impressive from the outside too, fronting onto a corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and High Holborn but in fact neither is in the top ten for seating capacity!
The two big Opera houses are in the top seven, and you may well have guessed the Apollo Victoria, that great slab of a theatre where Wicked rules the day, but there are a handful of other theatres that may surprise you in the same way as anybody entering Doctor Who’s Tardis for the first time. “It’s bigger on the inside…”
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What we see is that there is a group of 5 ginormous auditoriums, in addition to the Royal Opera House and The Colloseum (ENO) which are the Apollo Victoria, The London Palladium, The Theatre Royal Drury Lane ( The Haymarket Theatre Royal is much smaller), The Dominion and The Lyceum theatres. These are all of the greater than 2,000 seats capacity theatres.
Next we have another five big but not colossal theatres, The Prince Edward Theatre where Jersey Boys dominates that part of Soho, the nearby Palace Theatre mentioned earlier, two possible surprises – The Victoria Palace Theatre ( Billy Elliot) and the Adelphi Theatre down on the Strand, and the Shaftesbury Theatre also mentioned previously. These are all 1,400 seats plus and are then followed by a more gradual drop off in theatre sizes right down to the smallest of the West End Theatres proper.
It makes financial sense that there in some of the smallest theatres you will find some of the longest running shows – The Mousetrap at St Martins, Woman in Black at the Fortune, but also some of the more specialist or modern playhouses like Trafalgar Studios, The Arts Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre. At this end of the scale the definition of a true West End theatre may easily be disputed and we could include a number of the larger ‘fringe’ theatres which happen to be situated in the West End.