When a 12-year-old boy with autism was asked to leave a major family musical in the West End last summer after complaints about the noise he was making, it highlighted a shocking shortfall in theatre’s attitude towards, and provision for, audience members with special needs. Judging by the number of family shows offering access performances this Christmas, it also spurred a whole lot of venues into action.
Captioned, audio-described and signed performances help kids with physical disabilities. Relaxed performances are a relatively new addition – the National Theatre staged its first one earlier this year, fittingly enough for ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’, and will be holding one for Katie Mitchell’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (above) at 1.30pm on Jan 19. Relaxed performances are aimed at anyone who could benefit from a more laid-back atmosphere – kids with autism, learning disabilities and sensory and communication disorders are actively welcomed. Here moving, making noise, and coming and going won’t get you tutted at.
Dedicated children’s theatre The Unicorn has always led the way on this score, and has held several access performances for ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, with two relaxed performances to come (Jan 10 and 12, 2pm).
In addition to the NT, the following theatres are also all offering relaxed performances: Richmond Theatre (‘Aladdin’, Jan 7 7pm); Little Angel Theatre (‘Dogs Don’t Do Ballet ’, Jan 5 11.30am); Polka Theatre (‘Wind in the Willows’, Jan 5 5.30pm).
The following theatres are also holding access performances of one kind or another of their family Christmas shows: The Tricycle (‘The Arabian Nights’, audio described Dec 20 7.30pm, captioned Jan 8 7.30pm); Royal Festival Hall (‘Cloud Man’ signed Dec 27 2.30pm and ‘Slava’s Snowshow’ audio described Jan 6 2.30pm with touch tour at 1.30pm).
… And these pantos are doing the same: Hackney Empire (‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’ , signed Dec 22 2.30pm and 7pm); Theatre Royal Stratford East (‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ , audio and signed Jan 5 2pm, captioned Jan 4 7pm); Watford Palace Theatre (‘Mother Goose’ , captioned Dec 22, audio described Dec 22 2.30pm); Queens Theatre (‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ , signed Jan 10 6.30pm, audio described Jan 5 2.30pm and Jan 10 1pm).
Special mention to two shows which integrate sign language throughout: Half Moon Young People’s Theatre ‘Baba Yaga’ (Dec 22 11am and 2pm), and Chickenshed’s ‘Sleeping Beauty: Dream On’ at Rayne Theatre.
Set against previous years’ offerings, that’s quite a roll-call. Let’s hope it ain’t just for Christmas.