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Criterion Theatre

  • Theatre
  • Piccadilly Circus
Matt Humphrey

Time Out says

This mid-Victorian gem is one of the West End's more intimate spaces

The Criterion Theatre is an 1874 theatre with the unique distinction of being mostly underground. Even dress circle seats are below street level, a fact which so concerned Victorian safety inspectors that they forced the management to close the theatre and rework the ventilation arrangements a decade after its opening. 

Situated on the prime entertainment real estate of Piccadilly Circus, the Criterion was built on the site of seventeenth-century inn The White Bear. It originally regaled crowds with light and fluffy musical spectacles like 'Topsyturveydom', its opening show. In 1936, it hosted a theatre landmark when 'French Without Tears' launched playwright Terence Rattigan's career. During WWII, it put its underground location to good use as a (theoretically) bomb proof home for the BBC. In post-war years, it housed cutting edge theatre like 'Waiting For Godot', but its fortunes foundered by the '70s, when it was up for demolition. Luckily, Equity intervened, with a campaign that eventually resulted in the theatre being saved.

After long-running hit melodrama 'The 39 Steps', which closed in 2015, Criterion Theatre is currently home to West End comedy mongers Mischief Theatre's 'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery'. 


218-223 Piccadilly
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
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Bleak Expectations

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Comedy

Mark Evans’s goofy send-up of the more picaresque elements of Victoriana – think sword fights with baguettes, swooning damsels, a man with a big moustache playing three identical brothers and a sister – recounts the adventures of Pip Bin, the man who invented the bin.Caroline Leslie’s zippy stage version of ‘Bleak Expectations’ ran at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury last year, but there’s a big difference now it’s in London: celebrity guest narrators each take to the stage for a week with script in hand. On press night it’s the always brilliant Sally Phillips, but you can choose from Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Tom Allen and many more.Phillips (or whoever you end up with) plays the older Pip, a writer who is ‘better by far than that hack Charles Dickens’. He tells the story of his life from birth, via the penguin-related death of his father, the dastardly doings of his guardian Gently Benevolent and his ill-fated romances with women like Flora Dies-Early.Yeah, subtlety is not really the point. What worked in short blasts on Radio 4 gets pretty wearying in a two-and-a-half-hour chunk. While Evans sort of sends up the kind of guffawing absurdist humour that used to be British mainstream comedy – Goons, Footlights etc – it also is that humour too. Strong whiffs of ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Python’ are in the air (the horrible boarding school Pip is sent to is called St Bastard’s).Part of the problem is it gives off this constant sense of trying to be funny rather than being funny. It get

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