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SeatPlan Help You To Find Accessible Theatres in the UK

empty theatre seats and stage with dramatic lighting

This post has been written by Laura Kressly for Disabled Living.

Commercial theatres aren’t known for being access friendly, but this is finally starting to change due to a shift in attitudes. Unfortunately, theatre buildings struggle to keep up.

Many buildings in London’s West End are old, including most of the theatres. They date to Victorian times or, in some instances, are even older than that – the fourth version of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was built in 1812, seven years before Queen Victoria was born. Historical buildings are notoriously bad for access, and with many of the biggest and best theatres in the country having listed status, it can be difficult for people with access and mobility needs to go to the theatre.

Fortunately, theatre owners and managers are aware of the need to improve in this area and are doing what they can to install access provisions around budget and planning restrictions. With growing awareness of these building’s power to exclude non-disabled audiences, there have been a lot of recent changes. It’s now normal for theatres to have infrared hearing systems, access performances, removable seating, downloadable visual stories, dog-minding services and staff specifically trained to support theatregoers with access requirements. When building regulations allow, ramps and lifts have been installed, as have low-level service counters.

But it’s still not perfect…

Theatre seating is usually spread over several levels, and many venues are unable to install internal lifts. Main entrances often have at least a few steps. Most theatres request that patrons with access requirements notify the venue in advance, and arrive at least half an hour early. Some theatres don’t even have adapted toilets.

This means that theatregoers have to take on much of the responsibility of arranging the logistics of their theatre trips and ensuring their access requirements are met well in advance of the performance date they want to attend. Every building is different and access provisions vary across theatre land, so prospective audiences need to conduct a lot of research to find the information they need. Whilst most West End and large regional theatres have access information on their websites, if you are considering seeing different shows at different venues this is a time consuming process. Search results tend to cater towards outlets selling tickets rather than providing comprehensive information about the whole theatre-going experience, so locating information for each venue you are considering booking tickets for takes a long time.

Access pages on SeatPlan

Because of the lack of comprehensive theatre access information for the West End in one place, theatre website SeatPlan added an access page to each of their venue profiles. The site lists all of the major West End theatres, and many regional ones. They provide detailed descriptions containing entrances, numbers of steps, whether or not there are lifts and so forth. There is also contact information for the access teams at the theatres.

These knowledgeable staff members will be able to provide you with all necessary information relating to your access requirements and assist you in booking appropriate tickets. They can also advise on the availability of touch tours, audio description, captions and BSL interpreted performances. Some shows also schedule relaxed performances, which are suitable for people who may experience over-stimulation, or have ASD or other learning difficulties.

So whilst theatres have much to do in order to increase accessibility further, they are taking steps in the right direction. Independent resources like SeatPlan also help by making the process quicker and more streamlined. The theatre industry as a whole is finally waking up to their accessibility shortcomings so change is fortunately afoot.


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