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New lows in access bookings.

No “sorry for being so irregular at updating this” preface this time, let’s just jump right in.

We are trying to buy theatre tickets, specifically to Cabaret at the Playhouse in London’s West End. We love the theatre, and go multiple times a year (when pandemic conditions allow). This year we’ve been to the National Theatre to see Under Milk Wood in July, and last week went to Alexandra Palace Theatre for Mark Gatiss’s A Christmas Carol (also an excellent example of how to do disability representation on stage, btw!). For the National Theatre we had to call, but they answered very quickly and sorted us out, and for the Alexandra Palace Theatre I emailed customer services there who sent my details onto the ticketing agent who, again, got me set up with tickets very quickly and efficiently.

And then there’s the Ambassador’s Theatre Group (ATG), of which the Playhouse is one. They deal with all online and access ticketing for their theatres. And boy, do they do it badly.

C emailed their customer services about access tickets 10 days ago, as there is no special email for this need, with the aim of surprising me with tickets to Cabaret as he knows it’s one of my favourite shows, if not the favourite. However, five days ago he decided to tell me he’d tried this because the only response he had back was an email stating it could take up to fifteen days to get a reply (let alone complete the booking!) and, because going to the show is more important than the surprise, I said I’d start calling to increase our chances of getting to see it. I don’t think, however, that the collective 90+ minutes I’ve spent on hold since then have helped us any. The access line promoted on the website is no longer in use, and the one we’re told to call instead has no listed operating hours. Combine that with no queue system on the phone line itself which tells you how many customers are in front of you, I was left with the idea that I was hanging on for an unattended line in an empty office.

With the days going by, and the tickets unsurprisingly flying out of the box office, I sent another email today pointing out the extreme discrepancies between our experience so far and the one a non-disabled patron would enjoy (*click* *click* *type in card details* *done*). It’s since been forwarded to “the appropriate team” but the quick reply (as they will reply quickly when you mention breaching the EA2010) obviously had to mention the fact that the general customer service line was also very busy. Which is utterly beside the point, because I’m only trying to book tickets. That which the average patron can do in under a minute has taken us over ten days so far.

Money might make the world go around, but to get tickets you need full health too.

I didn’t think anything could be worse about West End theatres than the endemic accessibility issues we have to suffer in the listed-building theatres (see a myriad of now-fixed issues here). It turns out ATG’s accessibility service is threatening that crown! Through thorough perusal of their confusing website, we’ve learned that every ATG theatre has an “Access Champion” which makes me wonder why on earth their customer service to disabled patrons is still so appalling. I’m going to send a (far friendlier) email to the attached “champion” of the Playhouse theatre to see if that helps matters in this instance, but this is about far more than me getting tickets to the show I want to see. This is about making a fairer and more equitable system for disabled people to access the arts, company by company. We might not be able to change the access in the venues, but there is no excuse for such shoddy access ticketing.

UPDATE (shamefully late):
So, after posting this blog I sent a Polite But Scathing Email © to the “access champion” address listed on the ATG website. Someone replied quickly and after explaining my problem he gave me a mobile number to call the box office directly to purchase tickets he’d reserved for me in the meantime (which took a further three days as the line was only operating on limited hours). I was able to sort out tickets for a show in the middle of January a whole 16 days after first trying to get them myself. (They finally replied to my partner’s initial email to the access inbox 5 weeks after he sent it!) The silver lining was that the only wheelchair accessible spaces are at the very front of the table seating and at a fraction of the eye-watering price. My experience has been fed back to ATG’s access coordinator and I hope it helps to improve things for wheelchair users and others who need access tickets – please let me know if you’ve had good or bad experiences with them!

My review of the Playhouse-turned-Kit Kat Club is here