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The Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, London, W.1

The Criterion Theatre during the run of 'The 39 Steps' in October 2006. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Criterion Theatre during the run of 'The 39 Steps' in October 2006. This production ran at the Theatre for 9 years from September 20, 2006 to September the 5th, 2015.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.comSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Criterion Theatre opened on Saturday the 21st of March 1874 with a comedy called ' An American Lady' by Henry J. Byron which was doubled up with a one act musical called 'Topsyturveydom' by W. S. Gilbert and Alfred Cellier (see opening advertisement below.) The Theatre was designed by the architect Thomas Verity and was fitted into an already existing block that had been built the previous year, this housed a large restaurant called the Criterion Restaurant. The whole building stood on the site of a previous posting inn called The White Bear which had been there since at least 1685. Originally it had been intended to build a Concert Hall into this block but by the time the building's main structure was complete it was decided that a Theatre would be a better choice.

The remarkable thing about the Criterion Theatre is that almost the entire building is underground and even the upper Circle can't be reached without going down stairs. The exterior of the building is in such an original condition that the Survey of London vol XXIX considered this to be the best surviving example of Thomas Verity's work.

 

An advertisement for the opening of the Criterion Theatre - From the Theatrical Observer, March 1874.

Above - An advertisement for the opening of the Criterion Theatre - From the Theatrical Observer, March 1874.

 

Programme for 'The Candidate' and 'Naval Engagements' at the Criterion Theatre in 1885. - Click for details.A Pre 1907 Seating Plan for the Criterion Theatre.The Theatrical Observer reported on the opening of the Criterion Theatre in their March 25th, 1874 edition saying:- 'It is almost impossible to give the reader an idea of the lavish and exquisite decorations that pervade the interior of certainly the most elegant theatre in the metropolis. The period taken as the model of taste is that of Louis Seize - the purest and finest in the annals of French history.

Right - A Pre 1907 Seating Plan for the Criterion Theatre. Far Right - A Programme for 'The Candidate' and 'Naval Engagements' at the Criterion Theatre in 1885 - Click for details.

The decorations of the fronts of the boxes and balcony, are the work of the upholsterer and gilder, rather than of the scenic artist - white, light blue, and gold, with gold-coloured satin curtains, subdued by the folds of white lace; the chairs in the stalls are admirably in keeping with the whole design - they are true to the period - the backs form an oval covered with blue satin, with a pure flatted white framework, edged with a Louis-Seize gold border; the seats, which are quite luxurious are similarly covered.

 

The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.

Above - The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From 'Modern Opera Houses and Theatres' by Edwin O Sachs, Published 1896-1898, and held at the Library of the Technical University (TU) in Delft - Kindly sent in by John Otto.

Programme for 'The Man With 3 Wives' at the Criterion Theatre in 1886 - Click for details.The front of the balcony is gracefully shaped - so formed indeed that the decorator's art has full scope for its display. No one can enter the theatre without being struck with its solid magnificence - without being compelled to acknowledge the elegant and true taste of its designer. Mr. Verity has constructed a temple which shall be a lasting testimony to his architectural ability; and we sincerely congratulate him upon having not only designed a most elegant edifice, but a most commodious, comfortable well ventilated, and convenient one.

Left - A Programme for 'The Man With 3 Wives' at the Criterion Theatre in 1886 - Click for details.

Programme for 'The Case of Rebellious Susan' at the Criterion Theatre in 1894 - Click for details.The management has been entrusted to Mr. H. J. Byron, from whose ability everything may be expected; Mr. Hingston, one of the most clever and popular managers, of the day, superintends the managerial business department; and Mr. Barker is invested with the stage-management.

Right - A Programme for 'The Case of Rebellious Susan' at the Criterion Theatre in 1894 - Click for details.

The theatre opened its doors for the first performance on Saturday evening, when two new pieces were produced; the first a comedy from the pen of Mr. Henry Byron; the other a musical extravaganza by Mr. Gilbert. Of the first named, which is called "An American Lady," it will give the clearest idea of it, if we say that it is constructed on the model of Mr. Byron's former comedies - not that it is in any degree copied from any one of them, but it is the same in style, in purpose, in effect. He plays the principal character in it himself, a soft, listless, purposeless man, who though not quite an idiot, yet requiring, as he tells the American lady, somebody as a matromonial partner who can supply the brains and he will contribute the devotion. The dialogue is written with an off-hand sort of ability - an ability that goes far to show that we have not yet seen the exact amount of it. The principal character was played by Mrs. Wood - doubtlessly written for her - with great force and fidelity, and with an unlimited amount of spirit and verve. The other parts were well filled by Mr. Fisher (a rather noisy sort of baronet,) Mr. Barnes, Mr. Clarke, Miss Rignold, and Miss Hughes. "Topsyturveydom " discovered some very good music by Mr. Collier - very taking in some parts; those which he had contributed himself, especially; the selections were well arranged, and, performed by a good orchestra, such as he has at his command - one that has been carefully selected, being chiefly composed of stringed instruments - the musical part could not fail to be satisfactory Miss Holland sang a song very nicely.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Theatrical Observer, March 25th, 1874.

 

The Criterion Restaurant and Theatre in London's Piccadilly Circus - From an early Postcard

Above - The Criterion Restaurant and Theatre in London's Piccadilly Circus - From an early Postcard

Programme for 'The Altar of Friendship' at the Criterion Theatre in 1903Programme for 'Billy's Little Love Affair' at the Criterion Theatre in the Early 1900s.In March of 1883, whilst under the management of Charles Wyndham, the Theatre was reconstructed internally due to it being closed down by the Metropolitan Board of Works who were concerned about the safety of the audience in the building and the ventilation of this underground Theatre. The works completed, the Theatre reopened in April of 1884 with the added enhancement of electricity.

Right - A Programme for 'Billy's Little Love Affair' at the Criterion Theatre in the Early 1900s. Far Right - A Programme for 'The Altar of Friendship' at the Criterion Theatre 1903.

Shortly after the Criterion Theatre reopened the ERA printed a review of the building in their April 19th 1884 edition which said:- 'The principal improvements may be described as follows - A large area open from the basement to the sky has been formed on one side of the theatre by cutting off a considerable portion of the adjoining Criterion Restaurant, thus giving direct light and air to all parts of the house.

Programme for 'Winnie Brooke, Widow' at the Criterion Theatre in the early 1900s.As an instance of the efficiency of this new area it may be mentioned that the morning sunshine streams into the pit. Spacious new corridors have been constructed the whole length of the Piccadilly frontage on the stalls, dress circle, and gallery levels, providing direct light and ventilation to these parts. These corridors lead on one side to a commodious crush room and to the new Piccadilly exit, and on the other side to the box-office entrance.

In addition to this there are the former exits into Jermyn Street, so that every part of the house is abundantly provided on all sides with exits into two distinct thoroughfares. The auditorium has been in a great measure reconstructed.

Left - A Programme for 'Winnie Brooke, Widow' at the Criterion Theatre in the early 1900s.

The stage is entirely refitted with all modern improvements, and the old dressing rooms have been demolished and new ones built in Jermyn Street. The tile work and wall decorations by Simpson and Sons, and the structural work has been most admirably carried out by the well known contractor Mr Wm Webster, of Trafalgar Square.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA April 19th 1884.

 

Early Glass Plate Photograph (most likely 1899) showing Piccadilly Circus. The Criterion building is on the right and the London Pavilion can be seen on the left. The photograph shows the Criterion Block as it was originally, compare this with the 2006 photograph below. - Photograph Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Harvey.

Above - An early Glass Plate Photograph (most likely 1899) showing Piccadilly Circus. The Criterion building is on the right and the London Pavilion can be seen on the left. The photograph shows the Criterion Block as it was originally, compare this with the 2006 photograph below. - Photograph Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Harvey.

The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From a Souvenir Book called 'The Criterion Theatre 1875-1903' by T. Edgar Pemberton.

Above - The Auditorium of the Criterion Theatre - From a Souvenir Book called 'The Criterion Theatre 1875-1903' by T. Edgar Pemberton. You can read the entire book here.

Programme for 'Just Like Callaghan' at the Criterion Theatre in 1903.Programme for 'Caste' at the Criterion Theatre in 1903.The auditorium of the Criterion was built on three levels, Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circles, and had a capacity on opening of 675 although this has now been reduced to a more modest 600. The Balconies are supported by slender iron columns which do have some effect on sight-lines.

Right - Programmes for 'Caste' and 'Just Like Callaghan' at the Criterion Theatre in 1903.

The stage is small and there is no room for enlargement, furthermore, the 'Get In' is one of the most awkward in London as the underground nature of the building requires that all the scenery and large equipment must be slid down ramps towards the stage, and worse still, back up them on a 'Get Out'.

 

Piccadilly Circus showing the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre in 1907 - From the 'Premier Photographic View Album of London' 1907

Above - Piccadilly Circus showing the Criterion Theatre and London Pavilion in 1907 - From the 'Premier Photographic View Album of London' 1907.

A Postcard showing the auditorium of the Criterion Theatre in the 1970s - Courtesy Roger Fox

Above - A Postcard showing the auditorium of the Criterion Theatre in the 1970s - Courtesy Roger Fox who says 'This is a 1973 postcard showing the auditorium and the distinctive gold painted FOH luminaires whose use was obligatory under the hire contract for the theatre. On the back of the card the legend reads: Architect – Thomas Verity 1873. Proposed for demolition by Westminster City Council 1973.' Luckily the Theatre was one of those saved by the efforts of the Save London's Theatres Campaign.

A Mid 1920s Seating Plan for the Criterion Theatre

Above - A Mid 1920s Seating Plan for the Criterion Theatre

 

The Theatres Trust says of the Criterion today that:- 'This is one of the most important surviving mid-Victorian Theatres in Britain, rivaled only by the Old Vic, Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Margate, and the Tyne Theatre & Opera House.'

For a detailed history of the Criterion Theatre in its early years a Souvenir Book called 'The Criterion Theatre 1875-1903' by T. Edgar Pemberton can be found here.

You may like to visit the Criterion Theatre's own Website here.

Programme for 'This Desirable Residence' at the Criterion Theatre in August 1935. The Criterion Theatre Entrance during the run of 'The 39 Steps' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above Left - A Programme for 'This Desirable Residence' at the Criterion Theatre in August 1935 - Above Right - The Criterion Theatre Entrance during the run of 'The 39 Steps' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

 

The Criterion Theatre and the whole block that it sits in, in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Criterion Theatre and the whole block that it sits in, in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

 

 

London's West End Theatres

Adelphi Aldwych Ambassadors Apollo Apollo Victoria Arts Cambridge Charing Cross Theatre Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's Leicester Square Theatre London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric Menier Chocolate Factory New London Noel Coward Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Sadler's Wells Theatre Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's