What are London’s best long-running shows?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Jo Caird
  • Jo Caird

  • Correspondent

  • London, England, UK

London's West End is known for its record-breaking long-running productions, some of which have been playing for over 25 years. From large-scale musicals to straight plays, there's plenty of choice out there, with tickets available on the day of the performance for most shows.

Mamma Mia!, the all-singing, all-dancing musical based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, opened in the West End in 1999 and has since spawned productions all over the world. Set on a Greek island in the run up to the wedding of a young woman who doesn't know who her father is and wants to find out, this is a fun feelgood story with a sentimental ending. Acclaimed British director Phyllida Lloyd went on to make a film adaptation of the show starring Meryl Streep in 2008.

Billy Elliot the Musical made the journey the other way around, the 2005 stage production based on the non-musical film of the same name from 2000. This story of a motherless boy from the north east of England who secretly takes up ballet against the wishes of his father is set in the gritty context of the coal miners' strikes of the 1980s. Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Billy Elliot screenwriter Lee Hall and direction by Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and is a real tearjerker.

Another option for audiences looking for something with a bit of historical bite is War Horse, a production that began life at the National Theatre in 2007 before transferring to the West End. This stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel about a boy and his horse who end up in the trenches during the First World War features innovative puppetry and offers a compelling route into a difficult subject, particularly for younger viewers.

The longest runner on my list is thriller The Woman in Black, which opened at the Fortune Theatre in 1989. Two actors play all the roles in this still terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel. The show tells the story of a solicitor who travels to a remote country house to tie up the affairs of a deceased client and discovers that it's haunted by a mysterious woman in black. Expect plenty of tense moments punctuated by the screams of fellow audience members.

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