Access Performances: The West End Needs to Up Its Game

Harriet Wilson

I should probably start by explaining what a Relaxed / Access Performance even is because, somehow, they are still far from commonplace in the West End. Access performances include relaxed performances as well as performances that are adapted to include subtitles / sign interpretation / audio description. And relaxed performances are designed to be, well, just that – relaxed. They provide a chilled out atmosphere (for example, by the reduction of loud noises and harsh lighting) for those who may be anxious watching a regular show.

Lots of West End shows have integrated some access performances into their schedules. But it is rare that a show will have more than 1 or 2 of each type of access performance in a year. If, for example, somebody were to look for a show with audio description, they would probably be able to find one. But having reached this level, the West End on the whole seems to have adopted the attitude that enough has been done. It hasn't.

It should be an expectation, not a pleasant surprise, that somebody with an access requirement such as deafness or autism can experience a show in the West End that is tailored to their needs. And that doesn't mean looking at a convenient time period and finding just one or two suitably tailored shows in the whole of the West End.

So what is the solution? It's simple – more access performances. It isn't enough to just put on a token access performance on a sporadic basis; for theatre to be truly accessible, it should be easy to find date options (note the plural) for a suitable performance type of any West End show.

Some productions do go beyond the norm in embracing access performances. It is nice to see that shows such as An American in Paris and Disney's Aladdin are staging three or more access performances this Summer. It certainly is a start, but we still have a long way to go before somebody with an access requirement can decide to see any West End show knowing that, without having to plan a year in advance, they will be able to find a performance that suits them.

Whilst access performances are not yet regular enough to be very easily found, there are some great resources out there that can really help navigate the small world of access theatre. Official London Theatre's guide, 'Access London Theatre', is an exceptionally good resource, which I found really uplifting to read and would highly recommend as a starting place:

Tickets to access performances are usually purchased like any other ticket, but do make sure that you book through approved sellers – it is usually best to book through the theatre itself, unless a specific deal is on with a verified third party company.

How accessible do you think London's West End really is? Let me know about your experiences of access shows by tweeting @thespian_blog.


Harriet has been immersed in the theatre life from a multitude of angles, from writing to working backstage to performing. She spends most of her spare time in the West End or regional theatres and fills the rest with talking about the wonderful world of theatre through regular blogs.

For more of my blogs and reviews, check out my website, Thespian Therapy, and follow me on Twitter, @thespian_blog

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