Ideally located opposite the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, the Criterion Theatre opened in 1874. Designed by Thomas Verity, it is one of London most historically important theatres. Apart from the vestibule, the entire theatre is underground. In order to reach the perfectly preserved mid-Victorian auditorium, one descends a flight of stairs between striking tied walls painted with classical figures, muses and the names of famous composers.
The mini-maze of corridors, large mirrors and ceilings adorned with cherubs on clouds gives audiences a feeling of space to counteract any claustrophobia. For the story, until the Criterion was enlarged and properly ventilated 10 years later, it is said that it was necessary to pump into the theatre to prevent audiences from suffocating!
At the death of actress-manager Mary Moore in 1931 whose full-length portrait still hangs in the theatre vestibule, her son Bronson Albery took over the running of the Criterion and presented a series of successful plays. Due to its sheltered auditorium, the Criterion became the new home of a BBC studio to beam light entertainment to the nation during World War II. Wartime radio hit ITMA (It's That Man Again) was broadcast from here and as soon as the war was over, the theatre opened its doors again to audiences and playgoers!
Due to its subterranean location, the Criterion was really susceptible to damp until it was completely renovated in 1972 at a cost of £45,000. However this wasn't enough and in 1985, the theatre suffered extensive flood damage. During the '70s and '80s it was under extreme threat of closure when the site on which it stands was proposed for redevelopment. Thanks to campaigners such as John Gielgud, Edward Woodward and Diana Rigg, the theatre was preserved and carefully renovated making it the ideal location for theatregoers!