Opening on 27th March 1874, the Criterion was designed by the architect Thomas Verity and is a Grade II listed building seating 585 people over three levels.
The entire theatre is under the ground apart from the box office area on street level. To access the auditorium and bar, you need to descend a lavish tiled stairwell that winds down to the bowels of the building.
As with many London theatres, the Criterion was first conceived as a concert hall but was changed to a theatre in the middle of the construction process. In 1874 the first productions to grace the stage were An American Lady and Topsyturveydom. Both shows were flops with bad audience attendance. Consequently, the next session comprised the very popular genre of Edwardian musical comedies, which saw the ticket sales triple and cemented the theatre in the minds of West End audiences.
Between 1875 and 1899 the theatre producer Charles Wyndham managed the Criterion, presenting a long run of incredibly successful comedies. Before the outbreak of the World War Two the theatre saw a prolonged period of success with productions of Musical Chairs and French Without Tears. When the war came, the BBC took over the venue to broadcast a range of light entertainment, helping to keep up the morale of the British public throughout the conflict.
After the War, the theatre was re-opened. Productions of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Anouil’s farcical comedy The Waltz of the Toreadors delighted audiences in the 40s and 50s. In 1989, Piccadilly Circus was reconstructed. Consequently, the theatre was closed and extensively refurbished, eventually opening in October 1992 with a solo show by mime artist Ennio Marchetto.
The theatre found prolonged success in 1996 with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which ran for a record-breaking nine years. In 2006, John Buchan’s hilarious stage adaptation of The 39 Steps was revived at the theatre and continues to delight audience to this day.