Many visitors to London want to see a West End show as part of their travel experience, but getting into West End theatres can prove tricky to those with access requirements. Most of London’s theatres pre-date accessibility legislation and are listed buildings, so there are strict limitations on what can be structurally altered in them. Luckily, these usually Victorian or Edwardian theatres are starting to wake up to the need for increased access provisions.
Portable ramps, low-level counters, access performances and at-seat service are now fairly common across the West End. Separate entrances and adapted toilets are step-free. Specially trained staff can help disabled patrons plan their theatre trips and provide assistance at the venue. But it can be hard to get in touch with the staff who can provide this support.
Part of the problem is the British theatre industry’s massive size. The section of the internet devoted to it is even more sprawling. A significant portion of these sites are ticket sellers, with news and reviews sites following. After that, there’s a large group of blogs, forums and fan sites, and wider arts and culture sites covering theatre.
Googling a West End show title returns thousands, if not millions, of page results. Locating a given show or theatre’s website amongst the many other sites devoted to London theatre is a feat in and of itself, and with many theatres being owned by large corporations, it’s not always clear which site is the official one. For a casual theatregoer with access requirements, wading through these sites will show the industry’s lack of standardisation on providing access information, and that information may be out-of-date or incomplete.
The best way to find out about a specific theatre or show’s access, or to book access tickets, is to contact the box office or the theatre’s access team directly. These contacts are also often hard to find. If you are looking into more than one show, the process of locating the theatre’s site then finding the contact details makes the process even longer.
Fortunately, there are some good resources that bring all of this information together. SeatPlan is a listing and ticketing website with pages for every major commercial theatre in London, and a selection of regional ones. Each of their venue profiles has a dedicated access page stating whether or not the theatre has a lift, the number of stairs, where the step-free entrance is, seat reviews and most importantly, the contact details for the theatre’s box office or access team. The Society of London Theatre has a list of access resources, including a downloadable guide and an e-newsletter.
Both of these sites will save theatregoers a lot of time by providing them with the necessary contacts to book their tickets and other vital information that will aid them in planning their trips. Though the theatre industry still has a long way to go in their access and information systems, there are resources available to help everyone go to the theatre.