Criterion Theatre

History of the Criterion Theatre

In 1870 a contest was held at Regent's Circus to find the best design for an entertainment development to be built on that site. A little known architect called Thomas Verity won the contest and he was commissioned to design a building that would house several eateries, a top floor ballroom and a live venue.

However, caterers Spiers and Pond who were responsible for the development changed their intentions for the site and chose to build a theatre instead. Although initially opposed by Westminster borough authorities, planning permission was finally granted and the Criterion Theatre opened in 1874 with a production of Topsyturverydom by WS Gilbert.

In 1875 Charles Wyndham, the English actor/director/producer, arrived to take the reins of the theatre and under his expert tutelage the Criterion became one of the leading entertainment venues of the time.

The theatre was closed during the Second World War but was commissioned by the BBC to be used as a secure broadcasting studio thanks to its safe underground location.

During the 1970s the theatre was threatened with redevelopment but thanks to persistent campaigning by high-profile actors including Robert Morley, Prunella Scales and Diana Rigg the venue was granted a permanent stay of execution by the Greater London Council. Thanks to this, the Criterion remains one of Thomas Verity's best surviving works in London.

The Criterion has witnessed some successful productions since then, such as Run for Your Wife (1983) that ran for six years. The 39 Steps has been performed to audiences at the Criterion since 2006.

Travel Details

Piccadilly Circus London, W1Y 4WA

Nearby tube stations

Piccadilly: located next to the theatre
Oxford Circus: 7 minute walk
Green Park: 6 minute walk
Charing Cross (tube and mainline station): 6 minute walk
Bus routes include: 3, 6, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 22, 23, 38, 88, 94, 139, 159, 453

The Criterion Theatre is within the Congestion Charge Zone (7am until 6pm). The nearest car park is Masterparks at Whitcomb Street and Trafalgar Square. There is an NCP in Denman Street and the Q Park is Chinatown Car Park (20 Newport Place, WC2H 7PR).

The Criterion Theatre
Piccadilly Circus London, W1Y 4WA

The Criterion Theatre Seating Plan

The seating capacity of the theatre is 588 spread over three levels; Upper Circle, Dress Circle and Stalls.

Disabled access

  • The theatre is located below street level - step-free access is available via the Jermyn Street entrance
  • 54 steps down to the Stalls
  • 32 steps down to the Dress Circle
  • 23 steps down to the Upper Circle
  • There are two wheelchair spaces in the Upper Circle
  • There is an induction loop and infra-red system in the auditorium
  • No guide dogs are allowed in the auditorium but the theatre provides a dog-sitting service upon request

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