Disability and London Theatres

In planning a recent trip to London, I wanted to incorporate a little culture by watching something at a theatre. After all, the capital of Great Britain is renowned for its theatres and shows of all types. Like any other theatregoer, I began with a list of what shows were running and would be open on the dates we could attend. I setup a shortlist of possibles, decided which was my favourite and went onto their website to book tickets. There was no button to click for accessible seating so I worked my way through multiple layers of adverts and information in search of their accessibility details. Apparently, I have to phone them to make arrangements. A premium rate number, of course.

I rang and was told that I was speaking to a booking agent and would have to phone the theatre directly. She gave me another premium rate number. This went on until I eventually got through to someone at the venue itself. She informed me that they only have one truly accessible seat – and that it’s booked for every performance for several months, although there are “normal” seats available for the majority of dates. I asked why they don’t make some of that clear on the website and she told me they prefer to speak to disabled customers individually, so as to offer the best service they can.

At, of course, the customer’s expense.

It took me a whole day of internet use and expensive phone calls to find out that none of my shortlist could offer me a ticket for the week in question. Several of the theatres don’t have any accessible seating at all. A few of the comments I received:

There’s no call for wheelchair seating.

We’re an old building, we don’t have to comply with the regulations.
Our fire officer says we can’t have wheelchairs in the auditorium because they’d take too long to get out and be a hazard to “normal” theatregoers.
(My quotation marks.)

We have to take out a dozen “normal” seats for every wheelchair space we create – it’s not cost effective.

Several people told me they had to speak to each disabled person before allowing them to book a seat, with a variety of reasons, none of which convinced me. If it’s so important for me to be asked in person what my requirements are, why don’t they pay for the call by providing a freefone number? Or even a straightforward geographical one?

In the course of all this, I did come across one website that provides much of the information in a handy downloadable form:


Which is very helpful, but quite shocking in terms of equality for the disabled. The theatres which have accessible spaces told me they’re booked up long before the auditorium fills. If I want an accessible space, I need to book as soon as a show goes on sale – months before I’m actually going to be there.

Needless to say, we didn’t get to see a show.

If I try to do this again, I’ll start with the list of theatres from the above link, so that I don’t waste time and money on the ones who have no accessible spaces at all. I have a suspicion that my choice of shows is the last thing I’ll be able to decide.


One Response

  1. Chickenshed Theatre is very accessible and their repertoire focuses on inclusion. Ideally you need a car [they have free parking]. They’re in N London nearest to Cockfosters tube. http://www.chickenshed.org.uk/access

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