Wheelchair user James Burgess is a frequent London theatregoer. In a guest post for Official London Theatre, James lets us know about his regular trips to the West End, where to go for assistance, and even how, with a little luck, you can find yourself schmoozing with the stars:
I’ve been attending London theatres for many years now, enjoying it immensely each time. I’ve never felt that the fact that I’m a full-time wheelchair user should hinder not just my, but anybody’s, experiences when participating in activities such as this.
This reassurance is not only due to the unconditional support of my family and friends, whom I’m so very grateful to, but also to the fantastic support of the many staff members along each step of the way.
I usually travel to London by train. The arrangements are booked by phone beforehand, and any special requirements – such as a ramp to board safely – are always provided. Staff at the corresponding station in London are then notified via radio to have the ramps ready once again. There’s also an accessible Mobility Assistance Office at Euston Station, and they’re very useful in helping you with any additional questions or requirements too.
Accessible taxies, with pull-out ramps, are also on hand from the station concourse’s disability collection-point.
Once at the theatre, the accessible entrance is usually located at the side-door. Again, extremely helpful staff are always there to help you gain access, pointing you in the right direction. They’ll show you to your seat – and are also able to take out a seat, ensuring access for a wheelchair, if the attendee is unable to transfer, as I mostly am, preferring to stay in my own wheelchair.
The theatre staff are always there if you need anything – to purchase programmes and ice-creams on your behalf et cetera – and always returning in the interval to check that everything’s alright. Likewise, at the end of the performance, they’ll ensure you exit safely from the theatre.
Also, just as an extra suggestion, I’ve been very lucky over the years to meet lots of the stars at the stage door after the show, such as Orlando Bloom, Samantha Bond and Zoë Wanamaker! Whilst there are never any guarantees of this happening, if you wish to do so, it’s always worth writing a letter whenever possible, and taking a copy with you on the day!
I hope I’ve reassured anyone who is thinking of attending the theatre that all their requirements will be met, whatever their access needs. Theatre-going is a great experience!
For more information on accessing London theatre, please visit our Access section.