Westminster Archives Centre’s theatre collection is one of the largest publicly-accessible collections of historical material on theatre in the United Kingdom.
The collection focuses on the theatre industry of Westminster, including the buildings, stars and performances of the world-famous West End.
Researchers can explore the development and global significance of London’s theatre scene from the 18th century to the present day.
Our theatre collection is complemented by theatre plans, original artwork, letters and ephemera from our archives and local studies collection. A large supporting reference collection of books, pamphlets and journals is available at the Archives Centre and Westminster Reference Library.
The majority of our playbills date back to the 19th century, although we do have some 18th and 20th century bills in the collection.
By the 19th century, playbill design had become quite elaborate, making them a wonderful resource for art and design students as well as theatre historians and biographers.
Playbills typically offer the following information:
Our playbills are manually arranged by theatre name and date.
We are near completion of a performance database project, which will allow remote access to information on our playbill holdings. In the meantime, please contact us to find out whether we have playbills for particular theatres, actors and productions.
Our collections comprise over 100,000 programmes, covering most theatres that have operated in the West End and Westminster since the mid-19th century.
Programmes are often colourful and decorative cultural records of London's entertainment past, with beautiful cover designs and contemporary local adverts. As with playbills, they usually offer researchers the following information
Souvenir programmes are more lavish in design, and often include additional information and images. Some souvenir programmes may even include the script or libretto of the production.