Theatreland in London's West End is the largest district of it's kind in the world. The real heart of the area is Shaftesbury Avenue which currently holds 6 theatres. Surrounding the area are other famous London roads The Strand Oxford Street Kingsway and Regent Street are all nearby and will be familiar names to anyone who has played Monopoly even if they have never visited!


It all started way back in 1576 when the first theatre opened in Shoreditch by Richard Burbage. Prior to that plays were conducted in private homes inns or in the open air courtyards of the time. The venue was called 'The Theatre' but it changed location in 1597 when it was transported across the river to the south bank and renamed 'The Globe'.


It opened in 1599 and became the famous playhouse of one William Shakespeare. Burbage himself became a principle actor and was the first man to play Hamlet Othello and Kind Lear. Drury Lane was the site of the first West End theatre in 1663 and ran plays until 1672 when it failed to survive a fierce fire.


2 years later a Christopher Wren theatre design opened its doors on the same spot and it sat watching as other theatres sprung up around it. This is the time that theatreland really began to take form.


The 'Theatre Royal' as it was known survived for 120 years and one of its most famous residents was David Garrick his name lives on in the Garrick Theatre and the Garrick Club to this day. Most of the theatre's that you see today were established in the 19th century when theatre going became fashionable as an evening's entertainment with the upper and middle classes.


Shaftsbury Avenue was created during this boom period although two of the biggest venues are from the 20th century. Both the Barbican and the National Theatre were developed in the post war years when Britain was trying to look forward and have some fun after suffering through the war.


The post war years also brought with it new challenges for the Theatres other entertainments such as cinema came to the fore and Theatre going started to seem expensive the need to maintain the grand theatre buildings did not help theatres to remain competitive and times were challenging for many owners.


Since then the modern era has brought with it new giants of the Theatre Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber have made their fortunes in the industry and now play a key role in the running of theatre land through purchases and commercial ventures.


There have been runaway successes from Shakespeare's plays in the early days right up to Mama Mia in recent years the later making an interesting move from Theatre to Silver Screen showing that there is plenty of life left in London's Theatres yet.

1373 days ago
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A Quick History of Londons Theatres