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A life in the footlights
Criterion History (PDF)
Show History (PDF)
A new circus comes to town
Having demolished the White Bear, a 17th century inn, Thomas Verity (Victorian entrepreneur) builds a new development called Regent’s Circus – complete with a music hall.
1874 Our very first ‘First Night’
March 21st to be exact, with a programme including H J Byron’s
An American Lady
, a piece by W S Gilbert – one half of the famous light-operatic duo Gilbert & Sullivan.
Actor-Manager (and trained surgeon) Charles Wyndham arrives and swiftly establishes the Cri as one of London’s leading comedy venues before leaving to establish the nearby Wyndham's Theatre in 1899.
The ‘electric’ eighteen-eighties
As electricity replaces gas in London’s street lamps, TRH The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) enjoy a performance of Fourteen Days in March 1882. A year later, the Metropolitan Board of Works closes the gas-lit Cri as a fire risk, prompting the proprietors to carry out extensive alterations.
The Cri reopens with all risk of fire removed, electric lights and air-conditioning, including a skylight originally installed in the Criterion Dining Room.
Charles Wyndham delights audiences with 152 performances as famous thespian David Garrick in the play of the same name.
Life in the naughty nineties
Oscar Wilde sports a decadent green carnation at the nearby Café Royal, Sir Alfred Gilbert RA creates the bronze sculpture
– better know to the world as
and still proudly plucking his bow atop the Shaftesbury Memorial fountain in Piccadilly Circus.
Charles Wyndham celebrates 20 glorious years at the Cri.
Enter the Edwardians
As the 19th century closes and Queen Victoria approaches the end of a long and glorious reign, it’s all change at the Cri as the Edwardian era gathers pace.
Theatregoers mourn as the Cri declares itself ‘Closed for renovations’.
Piccadilly tube station opens, heralding the distant rumble of subterranean trains - a sound still familiar to Cri theatregoers.
Doing our bit for the boys
In a decade dominated by the Great War, playwright Walter W Ellis does his bit to raise the spirits by bringing
A Little Bit of Fluff
to the Cri for a three-year, 1,241 performance run.
Racing through the Roaring Twenties
As the Bright Young Things declare Piccadilly a permanent ‘party zone’ bright lights arrive in the form of electric billboards on the London Pavilion, first turned on in 1926 – and still a dazzling sight for audiences attending the Cri by night in the 21st century.
Depression? What depression?
In a decade overshadowed by economic crises and the shadow of war, the Cri refuses to surrender to depression.
John Gielgud (not yet a ‘Sir’) opens in
Rattigan takes the stage
Playwright Terence Rattigan launches a glittering career with
French Without Tears
– a West End smash for three years.
We interrupt this performance to bring you the Blitz
The Cri remains ‘dark’ for the duration of World War II, requisitioned by the BBC as a subterranean radio studio.
Waiting for who?
As a bruised but unbroken London dusts itself off after the war, 1955 sees the Criterion at the heart of the postwar theatre movement with a production of Samuel Beckett’s iconic, absurdist play
Waiting For Godot
London swings in the age of Kitchen sinks
The swinging sixties bring a series of classic productions to the Cri, including kitchen sink dramas and a controversially camp Joe Orton Classic.
, NF Simpson’s
A Slight Ache
by Harold Pinter light up the boards – stars include Emlyn Williams, Richard Briers and Wendy Craig.
An adaption of
A Severed Head
by Iris Murdoch runs for over 1000 performances.
Michael Bates and Kenneth Cranham camp things up in Joe Orton’s
– the Evening Standard’s Play of the Year.
A brush with bureaucrats The great and the good of the British Theatre – including John Gielgud, Diana Rigg, Warren Mitchell (pictured) and many others save the Cri from threatened ‘redevelopment’ by the Greater London Council.
1981 – 1983 Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!
Alfred Molina, Maggie Steed and Sylvester McCoy bring Dario Fo’s chaotic farce
Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!
to hilarious life.
1983 – 1989
What a Farce!
And was there ever a better or longer-running farce than Ray Cooney’s
Run For Your Wife
– stars included Bernard Cribbins, Patrick Mower, Ernie Wise, Aimi Macdonald and Una Stubbs.
Sally Greene sets up the Criterion Theatre Trust to safeguard the Cri’s future. The Trust oversees a complete restoration, commissioning Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to refurbish the auditorium and front of house.
by Ronald Harwood transfers from The Chichester Festival Theatre. Directed by Harold Pinter.
1996-2005 The Bard and the Bible
The Reduced Shakespeare Company delights audiences for almost a decade with their wonderfully concise versions of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and History of America and the Bible (abridged).
2006 A six year theatrical Hitch
Alfred Hitchcock provides the inspiration and Maria Aitkin the direction for Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation of The 39 Steps – a marvelously inventive evening of comically-tinged suspense.
Like every long running production, the Cri introduces a cast of new characters as Stephen Fry arrives as Chairman of the Trustees.
"I couldn’t be more proud and pleased to take over the chair vacated by the inimitable Lord Attenborough. Between them he and Sally Greene have ensured that one of the absolute jewels of the West End is in a marvellous position to grow and flourish into the 21st Century. I am insanely excited and honoured to take up this new position."
The 39 Steps ends it’s run just shy of it’s ninth birthday. Not quite a record breaker - but what a phenomenal run!
The Cri welcomes Mischief Theatre Company with the world premiere of their new play ‘The Comedy About A Bank Robbery’. Hot from the success of their ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ and Olivier Award winning ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’.
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