Yesterday, hit musical SIX announced that it will be moving to its new home at the Vaudeville Theatre in September after playing a limited engagement at the Lyric Theatre (where it has to close in order for the Bob Marley musical to come in as planned). But the show and the theatre have come under fire from people on social media for not having disabled access for those in wheelchairs and those who require the use of a disabled toilet.
Currently, wheelchair user access is provided using the AAT Major Stair Climber. The stair climber accommodates wheelchairs up to 66cm (26 inches) wide and 89cm (35 inches) deep including any footrest. The maximum combined weight the Stair Climber can accommodate is 190kg (30 Stones) when distributed evenly across the wheelchair.
But people with wheelchairs that don’t meet with these specifications “may be asked to transfer into the theatre’s manual wheelchair on arrival if the theatre staff consider the electric wheelchair unsuitable for transportation on the Stair Climber” which would likely make for an uncomfortable experience for a customer who relies on their own personal chair.
Nimax said: “The reason why we can’t install stair lifts is that these 6 steps are the primary entrance and exit from the stalls and we have not found a stair lift which complies with our fire regulations. A new stairclimber is being tested which will take the weight of 400 kilos and enable greater access for our customers.”
In regards to disabled toilets, there isn’t one available at the Vaudeville Theatre and the Nimax website says “disabled toilet facilities are available by arrangement with our neighbours, the Strand Palace Hotel and the Adelphi Theatre, a few doors down from the Vaudeville. A member of theatre staff will accompany customers wishing to use the disabled toilet facilities; alternatively customers may present their theatre tickets at the main entrance of the Adelphi Theatre.”
But for many disabled theatregoers, this simply isn’t good enough, with people needing access to a disabled toilet at short notice and not able to wait for a member of staff to take them down the street to use an accessible toilet. I can imagine this is also rather degrading and would feel like a child having to raise their hand to ask permission to go to the toilet.
Nimax Theatres says: “We’ve put a lot of work into trying to find a place to install an accessible loo. Again, we’ve looked at numerous schemes but none of them worked. The Vaudeville front of house footprint is tiny and we simply don’t have the room. So, we try very hard to make our bespoke access service as friendly and comfortable as possible. We provide a trained member of staff to discuss access requirements with each customer which is why we ask access customers to contact us via our access line. We tell people upfront that we escort access customers a short distance down the Strand to use the Adelphi accessible loo.“
Accessibility in West End Theatres is a common issue. Whilst Captioned, Audio Described and BSL performances are becoming more regular, Relaxed and Dementia Friendly shows are still relatively scarce (with Nimax Theatres currently only having one scheduled despite more than twenty productions on sale) meaning that those with Autism and sensory needs are still unable to experience theatre regularly.
There is still a long way to go in order to make theatre accessible to everyone but one thing that has been made clear over the past 24 hours is that people aren’t going to stop calling out for it until it happens. Because everyone deserves to experience the joy of live theatre.