A trip to the theatre has long made for a special and enjoyable evening out. Theatre shows have a unique way of bringing people together through spectacular – and often energetic – performances that celebrate talent and storytelling.
And, in our technological world dominated by screens and social media, there’s something to be treasured about sitting down to watch a show and being fully present in the moment.
As the theatre scene has evolved over the years, so too has the variety of performances on offer. With everything from gripping plays and all-time favourites like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, through to newer hit musicals like Mamma Mia! and Six, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of 16 of the most popular theatre shows around to hopefully inspire you.
1. Les Misérables
Les Misérables is London West End’s longest running musical, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It first opened in 1985 at the Barbican Theatre and went on to defy critics by becoming one of the most loved musicals of all time.
Set in 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean – an ex-convict seeking redemption after breaking parole and being hunted by his ex-guard and rival Javert.
Since being made into an Oscar-nominated film in 2012, the show has gained even more fans from across the world. With its heart-wrenching story, striking stage designs, and iconic songs like I Dreamed a Dream, At the End of the Day, and On My Own, it’s no surprise that Les Misérables has remained so timeless.
2. Matilda the Musical
The musical production of Roald Dahl’s well-loved novel Matilda first opened in 2011 and has continued to draw audiences of all ages ever since. Now, it’s one of the most successful British modern musicals and has gone on to win over 100 major international awards, and was even released as a film in 2022.
Matilda is the story of a clever young girl with an extraordinary imagination who challenges those in authority to stand up for herself and her friends.
Filled with Roald Dahl’s trademark wit, eye-catching background designs, striking choreography, and an incredible cast of talented young performers, Matilda The Musical continues to inspire audiences of all ages.
3. Six the Musical
Currently playing at the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand, Six is a modern retelling of the stories of Henry VIII’s wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves (changed to ‘Anna’ in the show), Katherine Howard, Catherine Parr, Jane Seymour, and Anne Boleyn.
It’s a relatively short, one-act musical that’s staged as a singing competition. Each Queen competes through musical retellings about who had the worst experience being married to the infamous King. Though, ultimately, it’s a feel-good show about individuality and female empowerment.
Six was written by Cambridge University students Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, and first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. Since then, it’s become a smash hit on the West End and Broadway, won over 35 international awards, and earnt Moss a spot in history as the youngest-ever female director of a Broadway musical at the age of 26.
Wicked has been on show since 2006 and is the ninth longest-running West End musical of all time. It’s won over 100 international awards and continues to be one of the world’s most popular musicals.
Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, Wicked reveals what happened in The Wizard of Oz story many of us know and love before Dorothy arrived in Oz.
Wicked is a heartwarming tale of love, friendship, and self-acceptance. Plus, featuring catchy hits like Defying Gravity, Popular, and For Good, you’ll be singing for days after.
Featuring a mix of hip-hop, R&B, rap, and traditional musical theatre, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton follows the story of Alexander Hamilton – a founding father of the United States. Hamilton may have been an unlikely hit, but now it stands strong as many people’s favourite musical.
The narrative (which arguably sounds more like a documentary topic than a theatre performance!) makes for a gripping story full of romance, historical drama, and military feats, with Hamilton working as George Washington’s right-hand man.
Innovative and inspirational, Hamilton has an impressive number of awards, including 11 Tony Awards, for its creative choreography and remarkable performances.
6. The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musicals. Running for over 35 years in 41 countries, The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful pieces of live entertainment in history, and remains Broadway’s longest-running musical of all time.
Featuring some of Lloyd Webber’s most instantly recognisable hits like Angel of Music, All I Ask of You, and, of course The Phantom of the Opera, even those who are unfamiliar with the story are likely to recognise some of its melodies.
Based on the Gothic horror novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells the haunting love story of an obscure opera ghost who falls in love with a beautiful soprano singer.
The stunning set designs, visual effects, and classic organ riffs bring the performance to life. And the show’s rather unconventional romantic lead is, arguably, what makes The Phantom of the Opera such a unique success.
7. & Juliet
& Juliet is a coming-of-age musical that asks the question: what if Juliet didn’t die at the end of Shakespeare’s seminal play?
We follow Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway as they rewrite the end of the famous tale, with Juliet forging a new destiny for herself in the wake of her lover’s death.
It’s a jukebox musical, so instead of original songs (except for one co-written by Jessie J), the characters sing well-known hits from artists like Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Bon Jovi – which the audience can join in with.
Having completed its successful run at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End (winning three Olivier Awards), & Juliet is going on a national tour from July 2024.
8. Come From Away
Come From Away is an increasingly popular musical which follows an extraordinary tale. Set in the small Canadian town of Gander, Come From Away tells the true story of thousands of passengers whose planes were diverted there after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Described by the Sunday Express as ‘a triumph of both the human spirit and musical theatre’, Come From Away brings to life the passengers’ individual stories and how, without a second thought, Gander’s residents welcomed them into their hearts and homes.
Come From Away is a powerful and uplifting musical that celebrates ideas of hope and community.
9. The Lion King
Now on its 25th year at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End, Disney’s The Lion King continues to amaze audiences and is one of the most successful pieces of live entertainment ever created.
Based on the classic 1994 animated film, The Lion King follows the story of lion cub Simba as he faces exile from his pride and begins living by the motto Hakuna Matata, or ‘no worries’.
The show is brought to life with Julie Taymor’s award-winning costumes and over 232 puppets, and is beloved by children and adults alike. It also stars all of the film’s popular songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, including Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, and Be Prepared.
10. The Woman in Black
If you’re into ghost and horror stories, you’ll probably enjoy The Woman In Black. Now celebrating over three decades in the West End, visitors continue flooding through the doors for the ultimate ghostly experience.
Since Daniel Radcliffe starred in the Woman In Black film in 2012, more people have become familiar with the story. Lawyer Arthur Kipps is haunted by his past and, as he recounts his experiences at Eel Marsh House, the atmosphere heightens and things take a darker turn.
Bringing Susan Hill’s original acclaimed horror story to life, The Woman In Black will send chills down your spine and leave your hairs standing on end.
11. Jersey Boys
Jersey Boys is a musical biography of famous rock band The Four Seasons. Journeying through their rise to fame, personal clashes, and tough times, Jersey Boys is the ultimate story of how a group of friends became a musical symbol of their generation.
Far from just a tribute concert, Jersey Boys provides a special glimpse into the lives of the artists behind the music. From Mafia threats and family disasters to gambling debts, Jersey Boys isn’t short of action.
Plus, featuring famous numbers from The Four Seasons songbook, such as December 1963 and Sherry, you’ll have the soundtrack rolling in your head for days afterwards.
After winning four Tony Awards and an Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys will have its final London performance on 4th January 2024.
12. Mamma Mia!
The ultimate feel-good show, Mamma Mia! is one of the world’s most successful musicals, and with an ABBA-themed soundtrack, you’ll have the time of your life watching.
Set on a secluded Greek island, single mother Donna is doing everything she can to throw the perfect wedding for her daughter Sophie. But when Sophie’s three possible dads arrive, a hilarious who’s-the-father situation ensues – and it’s anyone’s guess which one will end up walking Sophie down the aisle.
Much like the film, Mamma Mia! on stage is full of light comedy, feel-good music, and loveable characters. Remember to wear your flares and platform boots as you’ll want to dance down the aisles as you leave the West End’s biggest party musical.
13. The Mousetrap
Agatha Christie’s famous murder mystery, The Mousetrap, is the longest-running play in the world, with West End shows being performed since 1952. Now on at St. Martin’s Theatre, this genre-defining play will have you hooked.
The Mousetrap follows Sergeant Trotter, a young detective who’s sent to Monkswell Manor guest house to investigate a murder. The play is tense and claustrophobic, full of twists and turns as Trotter weaves his way through the maze of clues and red herrings. It’s not only great entertainment, but a puzzle for the audience to take part in!
Over 10 million people have seen The Mousetrap in London, and it’s well worth the price of admission. Just make sure not to tell anyone about the plot twist when you leave!
14. The Book of Mormon
Opening in London in 2013, The Book of Mormon has continued to grow in popularity, drawing attention for its comedy and religious satire. With a Grammy Award-winning score, intense dance numbers, and a heart-warming message about faith, it’ll be difficult to leave without a smile on your face.
The musical follows Elder Price, a devoted Mormon, as he sets off on his mission to spread Mormonism in a remote Ugandan village. While Price and his bumbling associate Elder Cunningham initially seem to struggle with spreading their message, they soon begin to leave their mark on the community…
With music and lyrics written by Robert Lopez and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon will have you laughing in your seat while bopping along to songs like Hello, Turn It Off and I Believe.
15. The Play That Goes Wrong
The Play That Goes Wrong remains the West End’s longest-running comedy and is known for its likeable characters, perfectly timed near misses, and classic whodunit storyline.
The play sees the accident-prone Cornley Drama Society’s attempt to put on a show about a murder at a country manor house. But as everything that could go wrong begins to happen, it’s not your average murder mystery.
This light-hearted show has a timeless feel and you won’t be able to stop yourself from laughing at the mischief that occurs on, and off, the stage.
16. Frozen the Musical
We all know about the success of Disney’s 2013 film Frozen – with catchy songs like Do You Want to Build a Snowman? and Let It Go becoming iconic global hits – and the West End’s reimagination of the film doesn’t disappoint.
Princess Anna sets off on a journey to save the land of Arendelle after her sister, Queen Elsa, uses her magic to accidentally cause an eternal winter. While hunting for Elsa – with the help of an ice harvester (Kristoff), his reindeer (Sven), and a friendly snowman (Olaf) – Anna meets new characters and overcomes various challenges. But, ultimately, the biggest triumph is that the sisters learn the true meaning of love.
With stunning sets, incredible special effects, and 12 new songs written specifically for the show, Frozen the Musical is an unforgettable spectacle, perfect for the whole family.
From shows bursting with hit music to productions inspired by famous films and books, the UK’s theatre scene continues to provide some of the best entertainment in the world.
Theatre entertainment is a wonderful celebration of human talent. With fantastic choreography, uplifting music, and gripping storylines that are enough to leave anyone with a big smile on their face, the theatre remains a special way to spend an evening.
If you love live performances and would like to watch more from the comfort of your home, we have lots of exciting upcoming Christmas events on our Rest Less Events platform. Perhaps you might enjoy attending A Harpist’s Christmas Collection or Singing in the Season: A Christmas Concert with Julia Loveless?
What are your favourite theatre shows? What do you love most about going to the theatre? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.