Last night we went to the ‘relaxed performance’ of Aladdin at The Theatre Royal. Normally I am not a fan of panto, so, thinking I was going along for the kids’ sake, I paid no attention to who was in it, (this would come back to haunt me). This pantomime really surprised me – in fact enough to make me think I would definitely book next year -it was fabulous. The set was stunning, it was slick and fast paced, the cast was great, the use of contemporary music and a wide range of dance gave it a fresh feel.
Aladdin appeared on stage, and I squinted to try and work out who he was, he looked vaguely familiar. I tried to poke Mr A, across the two kids, to ask him who it was. I convinced myself he was a footballer. Then Princess Jasmine started to sing…
It’s kinda funny how life can change
Can flip 180 in a matter of days
Sometimes love works in mysterious ways
One day you wake up gone without a trace
I know this I thought.
Aladdin joined in (the lyrics may have been pantofied):
One love – for the city streets
One love – for the hip-hop beats
One love, Oh I do believe
One love is all we need
And it dawned on me it was Simon from Blue. I had a real soft spot for Blue, not in a teen fan way, I was in my early twenties, so it was more of an ironic appreciation, but I loved that song.
Knowing this soft spot Mr A though was hilarious it had taken me so long to work it out (he’d looked at the posters). I was slightly star struck, and I have to say One Love panto style was beautiful. Christopher Biggins took me right back to childhood telly and Ben Nickless delivered impressions and risqué double entendre with such mastery, it went flying over the kid’s heads, while they laughed along anyway.
Relaxed performances are a wonderful thing to be part of. It was great to see rows of wheelchairs in the front row, rows of chairs having been removed to facilitate this. Children with all kinds of special needs were able to attend because of the special provision that was made meaning their parents could relax too, which was wonderful to see. There were extra seats between each family group, the theatre has a much lower capacity for relaxed performances, which makes the foyer calm and allows parents and children space, and makes it easy to take a breather if you need to. As a parent of a highly spirited child I can identify.
I had a tear in my eye when the woman next to us took a young boy on stage, it was a struggle for both of them, and he was scared and began to fight to run off, but the actress playing Princess Jasmine crept on stage and distracted him with a feather headdress, it was enough to calm him down so he could have his moment with Christopher Biggins.
A highlight was being able to relax and talk to other grown ups while kids played on the bean bags in the foyer and were given more glow sticks from the very relaxed and good natured staff. How lovely to see theatres relax! The staff and cast had really pulled out all the stops to make theatre accessible for all. I feel privileged to have been part of it and you could really tell the cast thought it was really special too.
The next relaxed performance in The Snowman on 28th January.
Read on to find out more about a relaxed performance, illustrated with images and words from the visual story and pack The Theatre Royal send out ahead of the performance.
But first a few snaps!
Mr G gets his hands on binoculars and glowsticks…
I’m really excited to have been invited to experience a relaxed performance of Aladdin at Nottingham Theatre Royal on Wednesday. I used to teach drama, so I was really interested to find out more about what a relaxed performance involves.
‘This pantomime season we are delighted to bring you two specially adapted and relaxed performances, for customers with a wide range of disabilities and for those on the autistic spectrum. These performances are also ideal for customers wishing to bring very young children to their very first pantomime.’
Lots of kids on the spectrum cope brilliantly with theatre, while lots of kids not on the spectrum find it all a bit much, so a relaxed performance can be a brilliant way to introduce nervous, sensitive, strong willed or young children to theatre, and can also be great for anxious parents too.
Taking kids to theatre can be a leap of faith, even more so if they have a specific need. Theatres are full of rules, you queue, there are wide open spaces, crowds, then you have to sit still, it goes dark, there is unexpected noise, flashing lights, music that comes from nowhere, people pretending to be other people.
Having planned many theatre trips as a teacher and mum, I know these expectations can be exactly the opposite of what many children can cope with.
Most parents can identify with that embarrassing feeling of a whole room staring at you, generally it’s the child’s fault, maybe the play or event didn’t quite cut it, a stranger looked at them the wrong way, or perhaps the sight lines were poor, or they were too small to see. Things have gone very wrong with my kids on a couple of occasions at theatres or events, and we’ve had to make a dash for the exit, tails between our legs. It’s mortifying.
Relaxed performances are making it possible for more children and their parents to access and enjoy theatre and it really made me smile to read quotes like these:
‘This is the first time we have ever been able to come to the theatre as a family and we loved it so much! We will be booking Aladdin tomorrow!’
‘I was able to have fun with my son and looking around at how the kids were able to jump up and down and have fun without anyone complaining was absolutely brilliant’
I was interested to learn about the extent of the modifications and preparations for the relaxed performance. It isn’t just a case of losing a few bangs and flashing lights, the whole ethos is relaxed:
Customers are free to walk around and out of the auditorium, there is a chill out area, a TV relaying the show. The houselights remain on throughout, there are no flashing lights and sound is reduced. The cast have received Autism/Access awareness training, flashing merchandise has been replaced with glow sticks.
I was really impressed by the materials Nottingham Theatre Royal sent out both for parents and carers and for children, and I think they would be perfect to use to support any child’s first theatre visit. The young person’s visual story of the visit is really helpful, with photos of each stage of the visit and explanations of what to expect.
You can download the resources and find out lots more here. There is even a video!
I will be back on Wednesday to let you know how it went.