It’s been quite a while since I’ve done an access review, but since I’ve been to the theatre a few times recently I thought I’d dig into my notes and do another one. After all, this was what my abandoned blog and remaining Facebook page are concerned with (I was overwhelmed juggling two blogs and a FB page, so decided to write the reviews here and crosspost to the FB page!)
I took my dad to see Rutherford & Son at the Lyttleton Theatre, part of the National Theatre complex on the Southbank at the start of August. As with most access reviews, there’s good and bad stuff in here that I hope you will find helpful!
Lets get the bad news out of the way first, the National Theatre is one of those theatres that wants disabled patrons to sign up to an access list first before they are able to book tickets. However, unlike many of these schemes, they do not require an overly intrusive “proof of disability” such as scans of PIP letters or blue badges which was appreciated. They ask about specific needs, which include aisle seat, wheelchair space, audio description or captioning. After getting confirmation that my access list application had been received and filed, I could book the wheelchair space and companion tickets on the website, which was also greatly appreciated. There’s nothing more galling than having to phone to book access tickets as the only option, only to have 20 minutes of hold message telling you how much easier booking online is.
Perfect. Being a large complex of three theatres next to the wonderfully accessible Southbank Centre and BFI, the National Theatre has full wheelchair access. No platform lifts, no precarious ramps. Entrance to the Lyttleton Theatre was well signposted, and while a good portion of the audience headed for the stairs or the lift, we were shown to a door in the wall which led to the wheelchair space at the top of the stalls seating. And here I found the only problem…
With four spaces available, the Lyttleton Theatre has more wheelchair spaces than the average London theatre, where sometimes there are only one or two for a capacity of hundreds. All of these spaces are in Row V, at the back of the stalls where the view is still acceptable. However, something was missing in Row V – the companion seat!
Those are my pixie boots, and just in front and to the left of them is my dad’s seat, in the next row down. The purpose of a companion ticket is to support the disabled person if necessary. If I had needed help during the performance, like needing to leave to go to the toilet, or help with emergency medication, it would have been disruptive for the rest of the patrons as my assistance wouldn’t be right next to me and I’d have had to adjust my wheelchair (beeping, whirring) to reach him! Also it did make for quite an isolating theatre experience being up on my own next to the sound desk!
If someone with far greater needs than myself (such as needing assistance with drinking) were put in this wheelchair space, then there is no way their companion would be able to take the booked companion seat, and I wonder what would happen then?
No complaints here either. The atrium of the Lyttleton Theatre is in the wider National Theatre lobby, and the bar and café are on the same level as the entrance and level-access door to the theatre.
Fine – roomy, red cord dangling as it should be, no nappy bins blocking access. Though it should be noted that the toilets (including the wheelchair accessible one) are located in the main foyer of the National Theatre, and any members of the public can come in and use them so you may find yourself waiting if a passing wheelchair user gets caught short!
Overall, because it’s part of the larger National Theatre complex, the Lyttleton Theatre is very good for access – notably when it comes to booking tickets and getting around the building. The only way it let itself down was the set up of the wheelchair space and companion seating, which should be an easy enough fix. As always, I will update if I hear anything back from the theatre or someone else visits and gives me news of positive change!