Now showing at the Criterion Theatre
Criterion Theatre history
From the outside
The Criterion’s vestibule is in the open air, opposite the famous statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. But the rest of this delightful little gem of a theatre is completely underground. With its luscious mauve wallpaper, lovely murals and sparkling chandeliers, delicate carved, curving balconies and traditional tiered seating, it’s a real jewel in the West End theatreland crown.
Criterion Theatre architecture and history
Because the Criterion Theatre is underground, you can hear the trains rumbling through the nearby tube station. Opened in 1874 and designed by Thomas Verity, it is a historically important structure and a beautifully preserved example of a mid-Victorian auditorium, listed Grade Two by English Heritage.
Way back in 1870 Spiers and Pond, a catering business, started the huge job of re-developing the site, former home to the White Bear, a 1600s pub between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly Circus. They held a competition to choose the design of a new concert hall complex, and Thomas Verity won. Shortly after the building work began, they changed their plans and decided to build a theatre instead. Because the authorities weren’t happy about it being underground, and lit by dangerous gas, they insisted that fresh air must be pumped into the auditorium.
The building was finally finished in 1873 and opened in March 1874. Charles Wyndham leased the building in 1875 and soon shot the theatre to fame as one of London’s best comedy houses. Wyndham left in 1899 to open his own theatre, but held on to the lease.
In 1883 the Criterion Theatre closed for modernisation, installing electricity as well as replacing the old fresh air pumps with new direct access ventilation shaft, a project supervised by Thomas Verity. They also created several new corridors and exits, reconstructing the auditorium, re-equipping the stage and adding new dressing rooms.
During World War II, the Criterion was requisitioned by the BBC as a bomb-safe broadcasting studio. After the war, the Criterion continued, showing many avant-garde works of the time.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company made their home at the Criterion Theatre between 1996 and 2005, staging comedy classics The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Complete History of America, The Bible and The Complete Word of God.
Past shows at the Criterion theatre
The Criterion has hosted a wealth of top shows and plays down the years, including Tom Foolery, Hank Williams, Can't Pay? Won't Pay! and Woza Albert in the early 1980s and Run For Your Wife, Ennio Marchetto, Making it Better and Misery in the early ‘90s. They showed Amajuba, The Countess , the Gruffalo and What The Butler Saw in ’05, Star Wars – Shortened in 2006 and countless excellent performances of hit shows ever since.
Criterion Theatre access
There are fifty four stairs down to the auditorium and stalls, thirty two stairs to the Dress Circle and twenty three stairs to the Upper Circle. There is no lift in the theatre, but you can arrange access on request, via the Stage Door in Jermyn Street.
Criterion Theatre tickets
We’re a popular destination for a wide variety of seat types and prices, with excellent availability on the full range of Criterion Theatre tickets.
Piccadilly Circus, London, SW1Y 4XA
- Air conditioned
- Disabled toilets
- Infrared hearing loop
- Member of Q-Park scheme
- Wheelchair/scooter access
- Capacity: 590
- Year built: 1874