The Old Red Lion Theatre – championing the way forward for Accessibility in Fringe theatres

The Old Red Lion Theatre, in London’s Islington, might only have sixty seats but they are championing the way forward for off-west end theatre’s to hold accessible performances of theatre shows. They appreciate that the theatre can feel like an intimidating place for audiences who can’t always control when they move or make some noise. So inspired by the brilliant Jess Thom they encourage all of their productions to have at least one Extra Live! performance, proving that it isn’t just the big West End shows with huge budgets that can create accessible theatre.

Relaxed Performances provide an opportunity for people with autism spectrum conditions, learning disabilities or other sensory and communication needs to access theatre in a relaxed environment. Unfortunately, due to the age of the building, The Old Red Lion Theatre is not wheelchair accessible but they are still doing as much as they can to make their show’s as accessible as possible.

Artistic Director & Theatre Manager of the Old Red Lion Katy Danbury says “The theatre can feel like an intimidating place for audiences who can’t always control when they move or make some noise. It is important that everyone feels welcome at our venue and is able to engage with and enjoy our work as much as possible. Although the theatre itself is sadly not physically accessible due to it being located in the first floor of a listed building, we remind all of our creatives to consider accessibility during their run here. This can be incorporated within the set, lighting or sound design. For example, a recent production, The Noises, had fully integrated audio description. We ask every production to have at least one relaxed performance to accommodate neurodivergent audiences. Those new to the venue and planning a visit to one of our accessible performances will now be able to make use of the audio and visual guides available on our website.”

Producer of “The Knot” Dan Daniel, who was encouraged to open up his upcoming show with not one but two Relaxed Performances at The Old Red Lion said The addition of relaxed performances may actually heighten the authenticity and truthful nature of the show. The feeling that these characters are real people will be be reinforced by removing the superficial constraints of the theatre, and keep the actors to playing with a live environment in front of them; they will be telling their stories to real people, not shouting in to darkness. Given that there was nothing in our show that we felt would be compromised, it was a no-brainer.

Theatres can be very restrictive, closed spaces where the stigma of movement or talking is heightened due to the live actors in front of you. We don’t talk about it much but it can be a really claustrophobic experience and off-putting to neuro-diverse audiences who are unsure if they can sit still in the dark for a full 90 minutes. I am hoping the relaxed performances will encourage those people to come and experience more theatre and feel that these spaces are for them too.”

So what advice would Katy and Dan give for smaller fringe theatre’s and producers who are yet to make their productions accessibility friendly?

Dan says: “Think how it could actually work for your show, as opposed to working against it. It really doesn’t need to cost anything, can do a world of good and at the very least, gets your show out to more people! So do it!”

Katy explains “Do it! It’s very simple. All you need to do is let audiences know that they can come and go as they please throughout the performance, make sure the house lights are up so it’s not too dark, and lower the volume of all sound effects and music. Believe me, those few changes will be hugely appreciated by folks who might not normally feel like they can engage with theatre. It is completely inexpensive, so this should not be a preventative factor. If our productions add an extra performance specifically for accessibility we offer it as in-kind support.

THE KNOT has Relaxed Performances coming up on 22nd and 29th June at the Old Red Lion Theatre and so why not pop along and check it out in a relaxed environment where you aren’t judged for moving about or making noise.

Visual and Audio guides for The Old Red Lion Theatre can be found here which help to explain what will happen on a visit to the theatre, from how to get there, what is available there to you and how to find your seats. These guides are particularly help for those on the autism spectrum.


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