Anchored in the renowned West End district, the Criterion Theatre is one of London’s top ten oldest theatres. The building opened in 1874, showing manager HJ Byron’s An American Lady and WS Gilbert’s Topseyturveydom on its first night. Today, the Criterion is now chaired by Stephen Fry, and hosts many comedies and smaller plays. The theatre is built upon three levels with the lower stalls situated below stage level. As a listed building, it maintains its historic and authentic décor, where the close seating arrangements and small size give it an intimate feel and showcase its Victorian heritage. The building was originally designed to be a concert hall by little-known Thomas Verity, who beat out 14 other architects in a competition. During its design phase, the Criterion was decidedly changed to become the theatre it is today, but traces of its former plans can be seen in the list of composers’ names within the tiled staircase. With over a century of delivering a variety of shows, including ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’, 'The 39 Steps' and 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)', the Criterion has provided the stage for several well-known actors, such as Robert Morley and Prunella Scales. Its history involves surviving the Second World War, acting as a broadcasting studio for the BBC thanks to its underground location, and outliving decay and erosion with the help of several refurbishments aimed at protecting its original works.
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