The Criterion Theatre is a charitable organisation located in the heart of Earlsdon. We own our theatre building which seats 122 people and have been producing theatrical entertainment of the highest quality for over 60 years, ever since our founder members set up the Criterion Players in 1955.
We are a 200-strong repertory theatre company made up entirely of volunteers. We have a deep sense of community ethos and identification with Coventry as our home. We benefit from our long history and this enables us to pass on the skills we have gained, whether they be technical, performance or front of house to everyone who joins so that they quickly become a part of the ‘wider Criterion family’. Anyone can become a member of the Criterion Theatre. Membership falls into two categories - Member and Company. There is no limit to how many members can join and no entry requirement. Alongside the repertory Company, we have 400 members, many of whom also provide a variety of support roles in the Theatre (i.e. Box Office, Coffee Bar, Front of House).
In 2004 the renowned actor Ron Cook, and ex-member of the Criterion became the patron of the Theatre.
There are usually 7 main house and 2 studio productions each year, plus visits from other theatre groups, musicians and performers. The Company also runs workshops for experienced and non-experienced members and Saturday morning classes for children aged 7 to 16 years.
The Criterion relies on the effort and time of volunteers. There are no paid employees. Much time and effort has been invested in recent years to make the Criterion an important part of the local community of Earlsdon as well as providing quality theatre to a wider audience.
In 1955 a small group of people who belonged to a local church dramatic society in Coventry formed the Criterion Players. 1959 the Players heard that the Methodist Sunday School in Earlsdon was being vacated and decided it would be ideal for their new theatre.
Money raising efforts were intensified and thanks to the generosity and selflessness of some members a mortgage was arranged. In 1960 the sale was finally completed and the Players set about converting the building into a theatre. In 1961 our Patron Mr S. H. Newshome who was then Managing Director of the Coventry Theatre officially opened the Criterion.
Since then the Criterion has staged over 450 productions two of which have been world premieres. Members of the Company have played over 6,000 parts and crewed 8,000 backstage roles in Criterion productions.
On average every play takes about 50 people backstage and front of house to produce and staff. That means over 22,000 support roles have been undertaken by local people.
In 1881 the Earlsdon Methodist Church set up a building trust to construct a permanent home for worship.
By the next year the trust had enough money to start and a plot of land was bought by Robert Waddington, a watch manufacturer living on Earlsdon Avenue South.
A young architect, William Tomlinson of Moor Street was commissioned to design a suitable building, and after another year of fund raising, the Church advertised for tenders, and chose Mr Beecham of Allesley for 800.00. The average man's wage was about 28 or 30 shillings a week at this time.
On Easter Tuesday, 15th April, 1884, the stone-laying ceremony took place and in the actual words of one of the Trustees: 'It was a gloriously fine day. The village was gay with flags and buntings, and the school children with the school banners floating above theirs heads, were assembled on a raised platform. A large company from the city of Coventry and the neighbourhood gathered together for this red-letter day in the history of Earlsdon.'
Coventry's two Members of Parliament, Messrs. Eaton and Wills were present, laid stones, gave speeches and donations, after which tea was served in a marquee on the school grounds, then there were more speeches, hymns, prayers and of course, the collecting of funds, the total amount coming to 122 6s 0d.
The new building was brought into use before it was completely ready, due to a gas explosion which badly damaged the temporary home of the church. However, it served the congregation for 39 years as Earlsdon's Methodist Church until being replaced by new buildings on the corner of Albany Rd and Earlsdon Avenue South in 1923.
The old Chapel continued in use as a Sunday School and served the community as a whole as a venue for bazaars, fetes, concerts, meetings of all sorts, a sports dressing room, a youth club, centre for scouts and guides, even during the last war as an army base.
Later the chapel functioned as an annexe for the day school. In 1960 it was finally vacated by the Methodists and bought by the Criterion Theatre where it has served to entertain a wider audience than just the local community since.