As part of our Big Debate poll, in which nine out of ten theatregoers agreed that long-runners keep the West End alive (click here for full results), we invited you to share your best and worst experiences of visits to London’s long-running productions.

Over 300 of you sent in your stories and the responses were overwhelmingly positive, with Les Misèrables featuring most regularly (there were nearly 100 mentions for it alone) followed by The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys and Blood Brothers.

We’ve shortlisted our favourite ten stories below - including our winner, who will be paying a return visit to Les Miserables as her prize - and you can read the full, unedited submissions by clicking here. Do feel free to continue to add further anecdotes and thoughts via the User Comments at the bottom of the page! But first…

The league of long-runners

Agatha Christie’s whodunit The Mousetrap is the West End and the world’s ultimate long-runner. It will mark its 60th birthday this year on 25 November, and, amongst other things, is launching its first UK-wide tour this autumn to celebrate.

The full top ten list of the West End’s longest-running productions is – click on the links to book your tickets!:

  1. The Mousetrap (St Martin’s Theatre) – 59 years and counting
  2. Les Miserables (Queen’s Theatre) – 26 years
  3. The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre) – 25 years
  4. Blood Brothers (Phoenix Theatre) – 23 years
  5. The Woman in Black (Fortune Theatre) – 23 years
  6. Chicago (Garrick Theatre) – 14 years
  7. Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales Theatre) – 13 years
  8. The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre) – 12 years
  9. We Will Rock You (Dominion Theatre) – 10 years (on 14 May)
  10. Stomp (Ambassadors Theatre) – 9 years

Meanwhile, the West End’s long-runners in the making include:

The annual Whatsonstage.com Awards, voted for this year by 70,000 theatregoers, includes a category for long-running productions, Best West End Show. The 2012 gong, presented at last month’s Whatsonstage.com Awards ceremony at the Prince of Wales Theatre, went to War Horse, triumphing – by a nose – over Wicked, winner of the category for the previous two years. The other shortlisted shows in 2012 were: Les Misèrables, The Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys and We Will Rock You.

The Olivier Awards has introduced a similar category, also voted for by the public. The 2012 nominees for the Olivier Audience Award are: Billy Elliot The Musical, Wicked, Jersey Boys and Les Misèrables. The Oliviers are announced in a ceremony held at the Royal Opera House on Sunday 15 April.


Your stories, our favourites

Picking just one story out of the hundreds submitted was difficult, but of those who also submitted their email address for the ticket prize, we finally decided on the following submission from 19-year-old gap-year student Rachel Shannon from Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex. Rachel will soon be returning - again! - to see her favourite show Les Miserables, care of producer Cameron Mackintosh. Congrats to Rachel and thanks to Cameron.

Whatsonstage.com winner Rachel Shannon
Rachel Shannon: "Most recently I returned to see Les Miserables. I wanted to see Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean before the cast change over - aside from the absolutely spectacular show, he is the reason I returned to see it so quickly (within two months, not my more usual two years).

Having previously never heard of him let alone been able to pronounce his name, this is the first time I have gone back to see a show with emphasis on catching another performance of a specific person. The evening was made extra special by obtaining a free programme courtesy of the lovely Whatsonstage.com, converting a friend to the wonder that is Les Mis , meeting some of the really lovely cast members at the stage door and all this for a tenner/v-poor-gap-year-student-seats.

I believe that there is a definite sense of security of a good experience in going to see a long-runner. It is also virtually guaranteed there will be a top-notch cast. I love new musicals. But with prices so high and not necessarily the largest bank of friends who’ll have already seen it in the short space of time a show will have been open to recommend it to me, I don’t have the confidence required to shell out on tickets or persuade a friend it will be definitely worth it to come."

** TO READ ALL OF THE UNEDITED STORY SUBMISSIONS, CLICK HERE!! **

The others in our Top Top list of submissions are:

  • I never tire of seeing Les Miserables . I saw it as a young man, I've taken my children to see it and who knows, if I'm lucky, I'll get to take my grandchildren to see it. As one gets older, one appreciates different aspects of a wonderful story.
  • I quietly did the official proposal to my girlfriend (now wife) in the theatre bar at The Phantom of the Opera following a backstage tour.
  • I recently took a friend to see Wicked. Although it isn't up there with the Les Mis and Phantom , I would still class it as a long-runner. When you recommend a show to someone, you are putting something of yourself on the line and possibly, in this case, causing a rift in a friendship if the other person does not enjoy the show. Knowing a show well and having the confidence to say, "you will be amazed by this", I found very helpful. It is a way of sharing memorable experiences in one's life, like passing on a book that you have enjoyed. But with a show you can enjoy the experience together. Long live theatre!
  • I saw The Phantom of the Opera in Poland, New York, Las Vegas and when I finally had a chance to see the long-running London production I was like: "Oh my God, this is Her Majesty's Theatre! It is the theatre where ‘Music of the Night’ was played for the first time! Michael Crawford has played here, Sarah Brightman has played here, Ramin Karimloo, and now I'm here enjoying the show and watching John Owen-Jones in the title role…"
  • In addition to strong cash flow from tourist money - which should comfort producers to "risk" on new ventures - long-runners allow little girls and boys to be turned on to theatre, dreaming of playing Christine or Jean Valjean when they grow up, and enable them to actually LIVE that dream! What could be better than that!?! As actors say, every night is the "first" night of seeing the show for someone - no matter how long it's played.
  • Blood Brothers is my favourite. I still remember the first time in 1992 and how dumbstruck I felt at the end, tears streaming down my face. Steph Lawrence and Joanna Monroe were amazing. I’ve still not seen anyone beat them though Berni Nolan and Lyn Paul come close.
  • My most recent visit to a long-runner show, and my personal favourite long-runner, is We Will Rock You. I have been a great fan of Queen since the mid-Eighties. One of the best things about the show are the special performances where Brian May and/or Roger Taylor sometimes appear.
  • The anniversary of Jersey Boys in London coincides with my birthday so I often get to go see this show on the "last night" of various cast members and thoroughly enjoy Ryan Molloy's emotional speeches at the end. And all the ensemble cast members who are leaving get a special mention, which is nice.
  • Just going all by myself to see Les Miserables for the first time! Or taking my mother for the first time to see The Phantom of the Opera and hear her say: "I can die now".

** TO READ ALL OF THE UNEDITED STORY SUBMISSIONS, CLICK HERE!! **