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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.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Criterion Theatre opened on 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. The Theatre was designed by Thomas Verity and fitted into an already existing block that had been built the previous year. This housed a large restaurant called the Criterion Restuarant, and 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 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

 

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

Left - A Pre 1907 Seating Plan for the Criterion Theatre.

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

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 an added enhancement, namely electricity.

 

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.

 

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.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.

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

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.

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

 

Programme for 'The Altar of Friendship' at the Criterion Theatre in 1903In 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.

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

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.

Right - A Programme for 'Billy's Little Love Affair' at the Criterion Theatre in the Early 1900s.

 

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

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

 

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'.

 

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.'

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 Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric New London Noel Coward / Albery Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's