Commedia dell’arte is an Italian Renaissance form that is best known as a style that features characters wearing half masks. Commedia troupes would perform anywhere an audience could be gathered. The 17th century was the golden era for commedia dell’arte as Italian comics dominated the European stage.
The first documented appearance of a woman on stage was by actress Vincenza Armani in around 1566 but the most famous First Actress was Isabella Andreini, wife of Francesco Andreini of Il Gelosi, first appearing on stage in 1576.
The development of English pantomime was strongly influenced by commedia dell'arte.
Pierrot – is a sad clown with a white face who wears a loose white blouse with large buttons and wide white pantaloons.
Pantalone – is generally an old merchant, often wealthy and esteemed, at other times completely ruined, yet always an old man in every detail, with business skills.
Arlecchino (Harlequin) – is a faithful valet or servant, but in this context he is also the clown. Arlecchino's costume usually comprised a jacket and trousers with colourful and irregular patches, with a white felt hat with a rabbit or fox tail and a belt with a wooden spatula (or 'slap stick').
Colombina – is usually cast as a mischievous maid, a comic but not always virtuous figure, with a best friend (and sometimes lover) of Arlecchino.
Pulcinella – resembles a cockerel. He has a beaked nose and wears a baggy, white outfit.
Il Dottore (The Doctor) – is usually dressed in the traditional style of a medieval doctor, with a huge black suit. He wears a mask over half of his face that highlights his bulbous nose. Il Dottore is a comic personage originally from "well-fed and learned" Bologna.
Il Capitano (The Captain) – wears a military uniform and is usually a vainglorious, deceitful and braggart soldier.
Brighella – is a shrewd servant n the 'Zanni' genre. His costume is that of a servant, but usually with several short green stripes on a white background on both shirt and trousers.
Zanni – is a group of characters but can refer to a specific character. This character was drawn from the lower classes of the time, the peasant or migrant worker who worked in Venetian society as a servant.
Founded in Osaka in the beginning of the 17th century, Bunraku is a traditional Japanese dramatic art form featuring large puppets operated by onstage puppeteers with a narrative that is recited from offstage. The puppets have heads, hands, and feet of wood attached to a bodiless cloth costume.
Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese drama with highly stylized song, mime, and dance, now performed only by male actors, using exaggerated gestures and body movements to express emotions, and including historical plays, domestic dramas, and dance pieces. Kabuki is thought to have originated in the very early Edo period, when founder Izumo no Okuni formed a female dance troupe in 1603.
Noh originated in Japan in the 14th century. It is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama having a heroic theme, a chorus, and highly stylized action, costuming, and scenery. The iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, deities, and demons.
Theatre of the Absurd
Plays of absurdist fiction, written by several playwrights from the late 1940s to the 1960s, as well as the theatre which has evolved from their work. Term coined by Martin Esslin. Playwrights commonly associated with the Theatre of the Absurd include Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Edward Albee.
A 20th century movement that emphasizes the audience's perspective and reaction to the piece through a variety of techniques that deliberately cause them to individually engage in a different way. The purpose of epic theatre is not to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief, but rather to force them to see their world as it is. Pioneered by Bertolt Brecht.
Theatre of Cruelty
A form of surrealist theatre originated by Antonin Artaud that emphasises the cruelty of human existence by portraying sadistic acts and intense suffering.
A general term for various movements in Western theatre that began in the late 19th century with Alfred Jarry and his Ubu plays as a rejection of both the age in particular and, in general, the dominant ways of writing and producing plays.
A kind of allegorical drama having personified abstract qualities as the main characters and presenting a lesson about good conduct and character, popular in the 15th and early 16th centuries.
A popular medieval play based on biblical stories. The plays were often performed together in cycles which could last for days. Also known as a miracle play.
An ancient form of storytelling which uses flat articulated cut-out figures (shadow puppets) which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. The most significant historical centres of shadow puppetry theatre have been China, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Also known as shadow play.
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League.
The award was founded in 1947 by a committee of the American Theatre Wing headed by Brock Pemberton. The award is named after Antoinette Perry, nicknamed Tony, an actress, director, producer and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, who died in 1946.
The 1st Tony Awards was held on 6 April 1947, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.
The trophy consists of a medallion, with faces portraying an adaptation of the comedy and tragedy masks, mounted on a black base with a pewter swivel. Designed by Herman Rosse.
Most awards by a single production – The Producers (2001) with 12 awards
Most nominations by a single production – Hamilton (2016) with 16 nominations
Most awards for an individual – Hal Prince with 21 awards
Laurence Olivier Awards
Also known as the Olivier Awards, they are presented annually by the Society of London Theatre. The awards were originally known as the Society of West End Theatre Awards, but they were renamed in honour of Laurence Olivier in 1984.
The awards were established in 1976.
Most awards ever received by a musical – Matilda (2012) and Hamilton (2018), both with 7 awards
Most awards ever received by a play – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2017) with 9 awards
Most competitive awards by an individual – William Dudley (designer), Judi Dench (actress) and Matthew Bourne (choreographer), each with 7 awards
The Moliere Award is the national theatre award of France.
The awards were established in 1987.
West End theatres
Adelphi Theatre (Strand) was founded in 1806 as the Sans Pareil (‘Without Compare’), by merchant John Scott. In 1819 it was reopened under its present name, which was adopted from the Adelphi Buildings opposite, on the Strand.
Aldwych Theatre (Aldwych) was built as a pair with the Waldorf Theatre (now called the Novello Theatre), both being designed by W.G.R. Sprague. It opened in 1905. Aldwych farces were a series of twelve stage farces presented at the Aldwych Theatre, nearly continuously from 1923 to 1933. Most of the farces were written by Ben Travers.
Ambassadors Theatre (West Street) is a small theatre, seating a maximum of 444 people. The Mousetrap played at the theatre from 1952 to 1974.
Apollo Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) opened in 1901. In 2013, part of the auditorium's ornate plasterwork ceiling collapsed during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, injuring 88 people.
Apollo Victoria Theatre (Wilton Road) opened in 1930 as a cinema and variety theatre. Currently the home of the musical Wicked, which has played at the venue since 2006.
Arts Theatre (Great Newport Street) opened in 1927 as a members-only club.
Cambridge Theatre (Earlham Street) is currently the home of Matilda the Musical, which has played at the venue since 2011.
Criterion Theatre (Jermyn Street) was home to productions of the Reduced Shakespeare Company from 1996 to 2005. Charles Wyndham became the manager and lessee in 1875.
Dominion Theatre (Tottenham Court Road) was home to the musical We Will Rock You, which played at the theatre from 2002 until 2014.
Duchess Theatre (Catherine Street) opened in 1929. The theatre is built with the stalls below street level.
Duke of York’s Theatre (St. Martin’s Lane) opened in 1892 as the Trafalgar Square Theatre, and was renamed the Trafalgar Theatre in 1894. The following year, it became the Duke of York's to honour the future King George V.
Fortune Theatre (Russell Street) has hosted the long running play The Woman in Black since 1989.
Garrick Theatre (Charing Cross Road) is named after the stage actor David Garrick. It opened in 1889.
Gielgud Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) was designed by W.P.R. Sprague and opened in 1906 as the Hicks Theatre. In 1909 it was renamed the Globe Theatre. In 1994 the theatre was renamed the Gielgud Theatre in honour of John Gielgud.
Gillian Lynne Theatre (Drury Lane) was formerly the New London Theatre. In 2018, the theatre was officially renamed in honour of Gillian Lynne. It is the first theatre in the West End of London to be named after a non-royal woman. The theatre was home to the musical Cats from 1981 to 2002.
Harold Pinter Theatre (Panton Street) was known as the Comedy Theatre until 2011.
Her Majesty’s Theatre (Haymarket) was established by architect and playwright John Vanbrugh, in 1705, as the Queen's Theatre. The name of the theatre changes with the gender of the monarch. The present building was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The Phantom of the Opera has been playing at the theatre since 1986.
London Palladium (Argyll Street) was built in 1910, and was redesigned by Frank Matcham. Between 1955 and 1969 Sunday Night at the London Palladium was held at the venue.
Lyceum Theatre (Wellington Street) served as the English Opera House from 1816 to 1830. Since 1999, the theatre has hosted The Lion King.
Lyric Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) opened in 1888. It is the oldest surviving theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Noel Coward Theatre (St. Martin’s Lane) opened in 1903 as The New Theatre. In 1973 it was renamed the Albury Theatre, and in 2006 it became the Noel Coward Theatre.
Novello Theatre (Aldwych) was opened as the Waldorf Theatre in 1905, and was known as the Strand Theatre between 1913 and 2005. Renamed in honour of Ivor Novello, who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 to 1951. Since 2012, the theatre has hosted Mamma Mia!
Palace Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) opened as the Royal English Opera House. Richard D'Oyly Carte, producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, commissioned the theatre in the late 1880s. Since 2016, the theatre has hosted Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Phoenix Theatre (Charing Cross Road) has hosted Come from Away since 2019.
Piccadilly Theatre (Denman Street) opened in 1928.
Playhouse Theatre (Craven Street) was built as the Royal Avenue Theatre and opened in 1882.
Prince Edward Theatre (Old Compton Street) opened in 1930. Named after Prince Edward (at the time Prince of Wales, briefly Edward VIII and later Duke of Windsor).
Prince of Wales Theatre (Coventry Street) was established in 1884 and rebuilt in 1937. Named for the future Edward VII. Since 2013, the theatre has hosted The Book of Mormon.
Savoy Theatre (Strand) opened in 1881 and was built by Richard D'Oyly Carte as a showcase for the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which became known as the Savoy operas as a result. The theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. While the theatre was being renovated in 1990, a fire gutted the building. It was reopened in 1993.
Shaftesbury Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) opened in 1911 as the New Prince’s Theatre. it was the last theatre to be built in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Sondheim Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) was designed by W.P.R. Sprague and was built as a twin to the neighbouring Hicks Theatre (now the Gielgud Theatre). Known as the Queen’s Theatre from 1907 to 2019, when it was renamed in honour of Stephen Sondheim. Since 2004, the theatre has hosted Les Miserables.
St Martin's Theatre (West Street) has staged the production of The Mousetrap since 1974, making it the longest continuous run of any show in the world.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (Catherine Street) is the most recent in a line of four theatres dating back to 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use.
Trafalgar Theatre (Whitehall) was built in 1930 with interiors in the Art Deco style as the Whitehall Theatre; it regularly staged comedies and revues. It was converted into a television and radio studio in the 1990s, before returning to theatrical use in 2004 as Trafalgar Studios. In May 2020, planning permission was granted to return the premises to a 630-seat theatre, and the theatre reopened in July 2021 as the Trafalgar Theatre, the new home of the musical Jersey Boys.
Vaudeville Theatre (Strand) held mostly vaudeville shows and musical revues in its early days. It opened in 1870 and was rebuilt twice.
Victoria Palace Theatre (Victoria Street) was designed by Frank Matcham and opened in 1911. Since 2017, the theatre has hosted Hamilton.
Wyndham’s Theatre (St. Martin’s Court) was opened by actor and theatre proprietor Charles Wyndham in 1899.
Longest-running shows (as of 26 January 2022)
|Title||Performances||Currently running at|
|The Mousetrap||c. 28,000||St. Martin’s Theatre|
|Les Miserables||13,964||Sondheim Theatre|
|The Phantom of the Opera||13,629||Her Majesty’s Theatre|
|The Woman in Black||12,326||Fortune Theatre|
|Blood Brothers||10,013||Closed in 2012|
Outside the West End
Almeida Theatre is located off Upper Street, in Islington. Opened in 1980.
Ashcroft Theatre is located within the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. The theatre was named after Croydon-born Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
Barbican Theatre is part of the Barbican Centre. Designed exclusively by and for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Donmar Warehouse is a small not-for-profit theatre in Covent Garden. Theatrical producer Donald Albery formed the Donmar company in 1953. The Donmar became an independent producing house in 1992 with Sam Mendes as artistic director.
Gate Theatre is above the Prince Albert pub in Notting Hill. It has 75 seats.
Hackney Empire was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham.
Kiln Theatre (formerly the Tricycle Theatre) opened on the Kilburn High Road in 1980. The theatre presents a wide range of plays reflecting the cultural diversity of the area. The name was changed from the Tricycle Theatre to Kiln Theatre in 2018.
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith was originally a music hall established in 1888.
Menier Chocolate Factory is located in a former 1870s Menier Chocolate Company factory in Southwark Street.
The Old Vic is a not-for-profit theatre located on The Cut, near the South Bank. It was founded in 1818 by the actor William Barrymore as the Royal Coburg Theatre. In 1833 it was renamed the Royal Victorian Theatre after the heir to the throne Princess Victoria. In 1880, under the ownership of Emma Cons, it became The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern. Kevin Spacey was artistic director from 2003 to 2015. Matthew Warchus has been artistic director since 2015,
Royal Court Theatre is located in Sloane Square. In 1956 it was acquired by and remains the home of the English Stage Company and is notable for its contributions to contemporary theatre.
The Royal National Theatre (generally known as the National Theatre) is one of the United Kingdom's two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company. From its foundation in 1963 until 1976, the company was based at the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. Located on the South Bank, it is an example of brutalist architecture and was designed by architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softley. It contains three stages, which opened individually between 1976 and 1977 –
Olivier Theatre – is named after Laurence Olivier. Main auditorium, modelled on the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus
Lyttleton Theatre – is named after Oliver Lyttelton, the National Theatre's first board chairman
Dorfman Theatre – is named after Lloyd Dorfman (philanthropist and chairman of Travelex Group. It was formerly known as the Cottesloe Theatre (named after Lord Cottesloe, Chairman of the South Bank Theatre Board).
Artistic directors of the National Theatre – Laurence Olivier (1963–1973), Peter Hall (1973–1988), Richard Eyre (1988–1997), Trevor Nunn (1997–2003), Nicholas Hytner (2003–2015), Rufus Norris (2015–)
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was established in 1932. The theatre’s annual 18-week season is attended by over 140,000 people each year.
Sadler's Wells Theatre is located in Clerkenwell. The present-day theatre is the most recent of six theatres that have existed on the same site since 1683. Richard Sadler opened a ‘Musick House’ and the name Sadler's Wells originates from his name and the rediscovery of monastic springs on his property. Sadler's Wells is today renowned as one of the world's leading dance venues.
Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, on the South Bank. The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by the playing company to which Shakespeare belonged, using timber from an earlier theatre, The Theatre, that had been built by Richard Burbage's father, James Burbage, in Shoreditch in 1576. It was destroyed by fire in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching.
At the instigation of Sam Wanamaker, a new Globe theatre was built according to an Elizabethan plan. The structural design was carried out by Buro Happold. It opened in 1997 and now stages plays every summer. The site also includes the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor theatre which opened in 2014. Mark Rylance was appointed as the first artistic director of the modern Globe in 1995.
Theatre Royal Stratford East is the home of the Theatre Workshop company, famously associated with Joan Littlewood
Young Vic Theatre is located on The Cut, near the South Bank. Opened in 1970. The theatre performs both new writing and classic plays, the latter often in innovative productions.
There are 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats, located in the Theater District and the Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan. Smaller theaters are referred to as off-Broadway (regardless of location), while very small venues (less than 100) are called off-off-Broadway. Most Broadway shows are musicals. The majority of Broadway theatres are owned or managed by three organizations: the Shubert Organization, which owns seventeen theatres; the Nederlander Organization, which controls nine theatres; and Jujamcyn, which owns five Broadway houses. Gershwin Theatre has the largest seating capacity of any Broadway theatre, with 1,933 seats.
The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate theatrical productions on Broadway from 1907 through 1931. It became a radio program in 1932 and 1936 as The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. Inspired by the Folies Bergeres of Paris, the Ziegfeld Follies were conceived and mounted by Florenz Ziegfeld, reportedly at the suggestion of his then-wife, the entertainer Anna Held.
Longest-running shows (as of 6 February 2022)
|Title||Performances||Currently running at|
|The Phantom of the Opera||13,485||Majestic Theatre|
|The Lion King||9,456||Minskoff Theatre|
|Cats||7,485||Closed in 2000|