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The ten longest running shows in the West End, and why they're big


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Yesterday, 25th November, was the 65th anniversary of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. The show opened in 1952 at the Ambassador's Theatre, moving to it's current home at the St Martin's Theatre in 1974, and is the longest running show in the West End.

To celebrate, here's list of the ten longest running shows in the West End, and some of the secrets to their success.

10. No Sex Please, We're British - 15 years, 7 months (1971-1987)

This play follows a bank manager who sends off for some Scandinavian glassware, and in return, mistakenly receives Scandinavian pornography. It was universally panned by critics and only ran for 16 performances on Broadway (showing once again that Americans do not get British humour), but it ran for 6,761 performances, so something about it must have appealed to British sensibilites!

9. Starlight Express - 17 years, 10 months (1984-2002)

Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous rock musical, in which a child's train set magically comes to life and various engines compete to become the fastest in the world. What makes this musical truly unique is how all of the performers use roller skates, which must have something to do with its popularity as it's a very novel idea.

8. The Lion King - 18 years, 1 month (1999-present)

Still running, The Lion King reached it's 18th year on the stage at the Lyceum Theatre just last month. Given the popularity of Disney, it is unsurprising that this musical has lasted so long. It has a reputation for having some of the best costumes and set design in the West End, using puppets to mimic the animals that it is trying to portray. It is one of the few West End Shows with a permanent theatre (most move at least a few times) and, given it's popularity, I doubt we will be seeing an end to this classic show anytime soon. 

7. Mamma Mia! - 18 years, 7 months (1999-present)

Beating out The Lion King by just 6 months, Mamma Mia comes in seventh place on our list. I saw this with my friend for my 21st Birthday back in August, and it is probably the most fun that I have ever had going to the theatre. This show is a riot, with catchy songs and classic British humour, so it's no surprise that it has lasted so long in the West End.

6. Cats - 21 years (1981-2002)

Andrew Lloyd Webber's second (& not final) appearance on this list, Cats ran for 21 years and ended its run on its 21st birthday in 2002. The eclectic mix of music, plus the fact of its main performers all being cats, likely contributed to the longevity of this particular musical.

5. Blood Brothers - 24 years, 3 months (1988-2012)

The extended run of Blood Brothers that puts it on this list was actually a revival, the original West End run being a short stint in 1983 followed by a UK tour in 1984. It then returned to the West End in 1988 where it ran until November 2012. The story of two Scouse twins separated at birth in the 1960s has inspired a cult following, so it clearly tells a story that has resonated with people. 

4. The Woman In Black - 28 years, 10 months (1989-present)

The Woman in Black is the second longest running non-musical on this list, as well as the the fourth longest running overall. The popularity of this horror classic shows just how much British audiences love to be scared. It is also a staple of GCSE Drama and GCSE English Literature curriculums, so clearly seen as an important play for generations of teenagers to see.

3. The Phantom of The Opera - 31 years, 1 month (1986-present)

The final, and highest, entry for Andrew Lloyd Webber on this list, Phantom is the longest running Broadway production having reached 10,000 performances in 2012 despite only reaching 3rd place in the rankings. Like The Lion King, it has been at the same theatre since it's inception. Aesthetically beautiful, with incredible music, this opera-set love story has become a staple of West End Theatre over the last thirty years and is likely to continue for many years to come.

2. Les Miserables - 32 years, 1 month (1985-present)

Beating out Phantom by almost exactly a year, Les Mis is the longest running musical in the West End, and the second longest running show (it still has a while to go before beating out our top contender!). It's also the second longest running musical in the world, after The Fantasticks. The songs are beautiful, although for me personally, it's a little long (at nearly three hours) and obviously quite depressing. Still the fact that it has run so long shows that I'm clearly in the minority here! 

1. The Mousetrap - 65 years (1952-present)

The very play which inspired this post, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap has been running for 65 years, two years longer than the two shows above combined. It has held the title of longest running show in the West End since 1958. The play is a classic murder mystery and those who attend are sworn to secrecy to protect the identity of the murderer. There have been many articles lamenting the length of the show's run, but there must be something in the show that has appealed to the public for it to have lasted this long. The sheer length of the production's run has made it somewhat of a tourist attraction so, in this way, the fact that it has run so long means that it will go on even longer. Is this the play that will never end? At this rate, who knows.

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