Thursday, 24 November 2011

Access London - 1 Today!!

Welcome back to Access London and a huge Thank You once again for your continued support for disabled access to the arts in London.

Today's post is somewhat different as Access London is celebrating its first birthday today!! I can't quite believe it has been a year since I launched this blog and posted the first welcome post - it's been a fantastic year, a lot learnt, hopefully some things achieved and help provided to those needing to know more about access to the theatre and arts in London.

This last year has seen many theatres, galleries, museums and venues reviewed on their access and I'd like to send out a huge thank you to all the staff at all the venues for their help and support over the last year, providing information, interviews and images.

My next Thank You goes to every reader of Access London for your loyal support and for helping to spread the word about it - it is so much appreciated. I do read every single one of your messages, comments, emails and tweets sent and I hope have managed to reply to them all (if I haven't yet, I will very soon, I promise). As I have mentioned on previous posts, if you have any questions about access to any venues, please don't hesitate to get in touch, if the venue hasn't yet been reviewed, it doesn't mean that I don't know details of the access there or the best person for you to contact, but more likely that I haven't yet gotten around to reviewing if officially. If however, you have any questions for people that have been interviewed on Access London (and many of you have sent me questions) it really would be best for you to send them to the person involved, so you can get the most accurate answers and information. I'd also like to thank everyone who has supported Access London and its posts on both Twitter and Facebook - I couldn't have done it without you!

This year Access London noted some important access issues at the Royal Albert Hall -after fairly extensive discussions with management at the Hall, specific changes and improvements were promised - some immediate and some on a more medium-long term plan. I am going back to see a concert there just before Christmas and will hopefully be able to come back to you with good news on some changes that have been made since the Phantom 25 celebrations in October this year. Another venue that presented access issues was the Palladium - not so much in terms of physical access but of disability awareness, staff training and treatment of those with disabilities. Again, various discussions have been had and letters corresponded (of which I received an extremely helpful and supportive one from Andrew Lloyd Webber's office) and once again, I hope to bring news of improvements made at that theatre very soon.

Some of the venues that have proven to be well geared up to help those with disabilities include: The Palace, Her Majesty's, Criterion, Gielgud, Southwark Playhouse, Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre, Victoria Palace, Haymarket, The Barbican and the Adelphi. There is still much to be done to improve the access for all to our theatres and arts venues in London but these theatres are some that have made an excellent start to being accessible and are showing a good example to others that really do need to look at their access: both the policies they put in place and the physical access to the theatre too.

Access London was recently lucky enough to work with Degrafik, a great young designer who has designed Access London's new logo - a huge Thank You to Damion for all your help. Access London feels it is a fitting time as any to reveal the new logo to you (although my Facebook friends have had a sneak peak at it a couple of weeks ago!)

Access London has been fortunate enough to be able to interview lots of cast members from some truly fabulous shows over the past year and I'd like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank You for the time and support of: Rosemary Ashe, Gina Beck, Kieran Brown, Lee Bowen, Patrick Burbridge, Rebecca Caine, AJ Callaghan, Earl Carpenter, Steven Cleverley, Scott Davies, Stephen John Davis, Janet Devenish, Killian Donnelly, Cynthia Erivo, Sofia Escobar, Sophie Evans, Daniel Gourlay, Celia Graham, Richard Halton, Cameron Jack, Chris Jenkins, John Owen Jones, Paul Keating, Daniel Koek, Joanna Loxton, Myrra Malmberg, Frances Ruffelle, Simon Shorten, Emily Tierney, Katy Treharne, Tabitha Webb, Nick Wyschna, Michael Xavier.

Finally, a special Thank You to some for their continued support and fabulous generosity: Lee Bowen, Sofia Escobar, John Owen Jones, Rebecca Caine, AJ Callaghan, Myrra Malmberg, Nick Wyschna, everyone at The Cavendish Hotel, Her Majesty's Theatre, Palace Theatre, Adelphi Theatre, V&A Museum, and some special Twitter mentions for @LugiLou @inlondonguide @AboutLondonNews @kaydub89.

Access London has at least 2 awareness and fundraising events planned so far for 2012 including, an online charity auction for the beginning of the new year (to include lots of great theatre related items including signed cds and posters) and a charity concert for next September to coincide around the time of the paralympics. Details of the auction will be around from very early on in the new year and the concert throughout 2012, thank you for any and all support you can show for either event.

On that note (and after receiving many requests that I include it in this birthday post), I'll leave you with a video that has been taking Twitter and Youtube by storm over the last week - no, not the trailer for the Phantom25 dvd but, the latest challenge in the johnvskillian battle from the fabulous John Owen Jones and Killian Donnelly - watch for a great laugh and see The Phantom and Raoul as you've never seen them before - check out the rest of the challenges on their Youtube channel....

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Lyric Theatre - Shaftesbury Avenue

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for continuing to support disabled access to the arts in London.

The Lyric Theatre, located on Shaftesbury Avenue, is the current home of the Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 musical Thriller Live! Based on the career of the late pop star, the show includes many of his greatest hits, brought to the stage by singers and dancers - it also includes video footage and special effects.

If you are a wheelchair or scooter user, the theatre can be accessed via a side exit door on Shaftesbury Avenue - simply let someone know at the front of the theatre and they will open the doors for you. You should be aware that there is a small (2-3 inch) ridge up into this entrance but staff are happy to help navigate up it. If you can manage a small amount of steps, the foyer can be accessed via 3 steps at the front of the theatre. From here there is level access into the dress circle. All steps inside the auditorium are highlighted.

If you cannot manage any steps, then the side exit door on Shaftesbury Avenue will lead you straight into a room that can store wheelchairs or scooters if you can transfer and also has an accessible WC. From here, Boxes C, D and E are accessible with level access. Box E is the largest and can accommodate 1-2 wheelchairs or scooters and a guest whilst Boxes C and D can each accommodate 1 wheelchair or scooter and a guest. All of the Boxes have a slightly restricted view, being side on to the stage, but not greatly so.

The Lyric has an infra-red hearing system with 5 headsets available to use. Assistance dogs are allowed into the auditorium (maximum of 2 dogs per performance) but you need to either book a transfer seat in the dress circle or one of the boxes. There are no bars that have completely level access but staff are happy to help collect interval drinks.

To book Access Tickets to Thriller Live!, please call: 0844 412 4648 (via SEE Tickets Access Line) - discounted Access rates are available for people with disabilities and a companion/carer. To book all other ticket types, please call: 0844 482 9674.

Thank You to Everyone who has sent in messages to Access London over the past few days - I will reply to all over the next couple of days as I've been away for the weekend to see Three Phantoms perform in Plymouth. A fabulous concert and unfortunately the last one for 2011. There is a chance to see the show in February in Chichester and I'd encourage anyone that is available then to go and watch. To book tickets and for Access information, see The Chichester Festival Theatre Website

Lastly, I'm happy to answer (to the best I can) any Access questions to theatres and venues posted about on Access London but for questions on interviews with cast members, it would be best for you to contact them directly. Many of the people interviewed on Access London have Twitter accounts so it may be best to start there. These include the questions left over the weekend for: Stephen John Davis @stephenjdavis1 , Rebecca Caine @RebeccaCaine and Sofia Escobar @sofia_escobar

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Phantom of the Opera & Interview with former Phantom, Stephen John Davis

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for your continued support for disability access and awareness to the arts in London.

Tomorrow sees the release of the Phantom 25 dvd and to celebrate Access London has another post in our Phantom series.

This week also saw the release of tickets for venues 2 and 3 of Phantom's 2012 UK tour. Both of these will see John Owen Jones behind the mask as The Phantom and Katie Hall will star alongside as Christine. Phantom will arrive at the Manchester Palace Theatre 5 April 2012 - 19 May 2012. The theatre has wheelchair bays in the Cicrle and lift access to the Circle and Grand Tier. There is also an infra red loop system installed. Access Performances include: BSL - Thurs 26 April 2012, 7.30pm, Audio Described - Wed 2 May 2012, 7.30pm and Captioned - Sat 12 May 2012, 2.30pm. To book access tickets for the Palace, please call: 0161 245 6605. For more information, see the
Manchester Palace Website

Phantom will then be at the Bristol Hippodrome 23 May 2012 - 30 June 2012. For more information on Access performances and facilities, please call the Access booking line on: 0117 302 3222.

Back in London, Phantom's home is at Her Majesty's Theatre on the Haymarket. The stalls are easily accessible to wheelchair and scooter users via a side exit door on Charles II Street - simply inform someone at the front of the theatre and they will open it for you. This leads into the rear of the stalls and has an accessible WC. There is space for 4 wheelchairs and companions in Row S or, if you can transfer from your wheelchair or scooter, any aisle seat is accessible.

There is an infra red hearing system installed at the theatre and 10 headsets are available to use - ask in the foyer or an usher. A maximum of 2 assistance dogs are allowed in at any performance. Both large print programmes and braille cast lists are available on request.

To book Access tickets for Phantom of the Opera (currently available from £22.50 each for you and a carer/companion in the stalls), please call: 0844 412 4648. For all other tickets, please call: 0844 412 4653.

Please note: The Access rate is available to those with a disability, not just those who use a wheelchair or scooter - I'm simply pointing this out as I was at Her Majesty's last week and met a lady who was registered blind yet had no idea she was entitled to this - this rate and service are there for a reason and to help, so please do ring and check to see if you are entitled to them!

As with all of Access London's Phantom posts, I'm delighted to bring you an interview with another former cast member, this week - Stephen John Davis. I'd like to take this opportunity to once again say a huge Thank You to Stephen for his time and support.

AL: How did you become involved with the show?

SJD: I was called in to audition for the show’s associate and resident directors and musical director. I sang Lonely House from Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene”. They then asked me to prepare some of the Phantom’s music and recalled me twice. I was then offered the role of Joseph Buquet and “in house” cover Phantom. Luckily, I was able to perform as the Phantom on many occasions.

AL: Phantom is such an iconic show and so well loved, what did it feel like to be part of this worldwide phenomenon?

SJD: It always feels special when you appear in a show that has such an amazing history and is known by millions around the world. On the days when you’re feeling a bit tired, the buzz from the audience reminds you just how much the show means to those paying to see it.

AL: Who played alongside you in the role of Christine?

SJD: I rehearsed with the lovely Katy Treharne and I was thrilled when we did a couple of shows together. I was also incredibly lucky to work with Gina Beck, Sofia Escobar and Tabitha Webb.

AL: You played The Phantom for the 10,000th performance at Her Majesty's in 2010. What was it like to be onstage with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford to celebrate it?

SJD: It was pretty special to be honest. To be on the original stage at Her Majesty’s where the whole phenomenon began as the Phantom alongside the composer and the original Phantom was a day I will never forget. I will also never apologise for going on about it!!!

AL: What was your favourite scene/song to perform in the show?

SJD: I enjoyed all of it! Sorry that may sound a cop out but it’s true; The Phantom never makes a ”normal” entrance. The powerful first entrance behind the mirror going into the first journey and the boat, I loved the Angel scene at the end of Act 1 (although it was a little uncomfortable!). The Masquerade entrance and exit! The reveal from the cross after “Wishing”, the invasion of Don Juan disguised in the cowl that Piangi should be wearing.
Every scene had something in it that I could really enjoy playing. “Music of the Night” is obviously THE song but there isn’t anything that I didn’t love singing.

AL: What was it like to be a part of the Phantom 25 celebrations?

SJD: Another amazing experience. Don Attilio was such fun to play and the atmosphere was electric. A few of us agreed that we just had to stand at the bows and finale and try to take the whole spectacle in. The RAH is a pretty special place (even if I did rename it the South Ken Village Hall)

AL: In your opinion, why do audiences love the show so much and return to see it time and again?

SJD: The spectacle – Maria Bj√∂rnson’s designs have never been bettered. The music is probably ALW’s best and the tale of a child being rejected by his own mother, growing up with the world recoiling from him when he has such passion for music and beauty inside is quite heartbreaking. People love a good cry!

AL: Have you watched a performance of Phantom elsewhere in the world? If yes, is it much different to the London production?

SJD: No. I’d love to see it on Broadway. I watched part of the film once.

AL: If you could play any role(s) in musical theatre, what would it/they be?

SJD: I’d like a go at Che in Evita and Albin in La Cage aux folles might be fun!

AL: Do you have a message for Phantom 25 and its fans?

SJD: Thank you! There wouldn’t be a 25th birthday if it weren’t for the “PHANS”. I really hope you enjoyed the RAH performance this year and 10,000th performance last year if you saw them. Here’s to the next 25 years!

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenjdavis1

Stephen is currently appearing in the UK Tour of South Pacific. I saw this production when it was at the Barbican in London and would thoroughly recommend it. To see tour dates and venues, check out THE SOUTH PACIFIC WEBSITE

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Victoria & Albert Museum

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for continuing to support disability access and awareness to the arts.

Located in South Kensington, along The Cromwell Road, The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is the home to a vast array of objects and exhibitions from Renaissance to Contemporary, all based around art and design. Some of its permanent collections include Jewellery, Fashion, Ceramics, Furniture, Sculpture, Paintings and Theatre and Performance. It also exhibits visiting and touring collections and exhibitions that change regularly throughout the year - there is currently a Postmodernism exhibition on until 15 January 2012.

Inside, the museum is somewhat of a warren of rooms and passages housed in smaller spaces than some of London's other large museums. This gives the V&A its intimate feel and works well. Although the individual rooms may appear smaller, there is still plenty of space to manoeuver wheelchairs and scooters around and all of the gallery assistants are very helpful.

The museum is open from 10am until 5.45pm daily but has late night opening on Fridays, until 10pm. The museum itself is free to enter and visit its permanent collection. Some of the temporary and visiting exhibitions have entrance charges - those with disabilities usually qualify for a discounted rate and a companion/carer is usually admitted free of charge.

The V&A has a Disability and Access Helpline that can be called for all general enquiries: 020 7942 2766, or email
You can also book and hire wheelchairs which can be collected from the information desk. Please phone and book in advance on 020 7942 2002.

The gallery provides stools throughout which can be carried round for those who need regular breaks from walking. There is also sound enhancement equipment available for use on tours and lectures. Induction loops are present in retail areas, information point and desk areas and in the theatre and seminar rooms. The museum also runs a regular programme of BSL talks and tours - for more information on these, ring the access helpline on 020 7942 2766.

There is currently redevelopment going on along Exhibition Road (the road along which the level access entrance is to the V&A). Therefore the blue badge bays along this road may be out of use until the end of 2011. The disabled entrance to the museum can still be accessed though and is also being updated and improved.

Throughout the musuem, there are large print guides and braille information in front of some of the exhibits. There are also touch tour elements available throughout.

There are lifts to all floors of the museum, although I would advise picking up a map on your way in as these are few and far between once inside the main part of the exhibition and you may find yourself going a lot further away from the lifts than expected! There is a large ramped walkway up into the shop, as well as the main stepped entrance. Assistance dogs are welcome into the V&A.

All in all, the V&A is incredibly accessible to those with disabilities, is constantly improving the services it does offer and has extremely helpful staff, happy to assist if needed.

To find out where the nearest blue badge bays are in the area VISIT THIS SITE
To find out more about what's on at the V&A SEE THEIR WEBSITE HERE

COMING SOON: The Lion In Winter, London Coliseum, Menier Chocolate Factory & Pippin

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Phantom of the Opera & Interview with Joanna Loxton - Madame Firmin & Cover Madame Giry

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for supporting disability access and awareness to the arts.

Today's post continues on with Access London's popular series on the Phantom of the Opera. Since our last Phantom post, tickets have gone on sale for the first venue in Phantom's 2012 UK tour - Plymouth. The tour opens in February and runs from 27 February until the 31 March 2012.

Access performances in Plymouth include - Audio Described: Sat 17 March 2.30pm and Thu 22 March 2.30pm. Captioned: Thu 15 March 2.30pm and Fri 30 March 7.30pm
Signed: Sat 24 March 2.30 pm and Thu 29 March 7.30pm
For all details on how to book and for indepth access information for the theatre, please SEE THEIR WEBSITE

Back in London, Phantom's home is at Her Majesty's Theatre on the Haymarket. As of this week, the mid-week matinee will be on Thursdays at 2.30pm, all other performance times are unchanged (Monday-Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm and Saturday matinee at 2.30pm).

Her Majesty's Theatre has level access for wheelchairs, scooters and those who cannot manage stairs on Charles II street. Simply make yourself known to someone at the front of the theatre (usually someone is around from 40 minutes before a performance) and they will escort you around to the side entrance. This entrance leads into the rear of the stalls.

The stalls have a gentle rake, storage area for wheelchairs and scooters and accessible WC. There are spaces for 4 wheelchairs in row S in the stalls. If you can transfer, any aisle seat in the stalls can be booked (subject to availability). An usher is assigned to help and assist those in the wheelchair spaces and transfer seats.

There is an infra-red hearing loop system with 10 headsets available to use - these can be collected from the cloakroom or ask a member of staff (a receipt needs to be signed). 2 assistance dogs per performance are permitted at Her Majesty's. Large print programmes and braille cast lists are also available upon request. Overall, Her Majesty's is very accessible and has some of the most disability aware staff I know of in any London theatre!

To book Access Tickets for Phantom (currently from £22.50 each for you and a companion/carer in the stalls!) please call: 0844 412 4648. For all other tickets, please call: 0844 412 4653.

Today's cast interview is with Joanna Loxton who is currently playing Madame Firmin in Phantom and who also covers Madame Giry. Access London would like to say a Huge Thank You to Joanna for taking the time out to answer some questions.

AL: How does it feel to be part of the cast of Phantom during its 25th year?
JL: It feels wonderful! I have returned to the show having been in the cast several years ago. I loved it back then and am even more delighted to have come back at this time to celebrate its 25th year.

AL: Why do you believe that the show is so successful and has audiences returning again and again?
JL: Because of all the elements happening to fit together so perfectly. Its beautiful music combined with a heart breaking love triangle storyline, its dark mystery and its stunning design by the late Maria Bjornson. It just appeals to so many people around the can't help but fall in love with it.

AL: How did it feel to perform at the 25th anniversary performances with such a large company?
JL: It was such a gift. Not only was it an honour to be part of it, it was also like a huge reunion of people I have worked with over the years. The Phantom company is like no other company. It's one big family who love each other, so the concert was just one big extended happy family reunion.

AL: What was your most memorable moment from the 25th anniversary performances?
JL: I think it must have been coming out into the auditorium during tech and looking around at the set and experiencing a piece of what the audience would be getting. I knew that that feeling would stay strong in my memory for a very long time.

AL: You've recently performed your first few shows as Madame Giry in the 2011/2012 cast, what was that experience like?
JL: Amazing. I have always loved the character because she is the dark horse and holds alot of information about the Phantom's history and background. I went on earlier than expected and just had such a huge buzz. As I said before, there is alot of love in the company and I was hugely supported.

AL: What do you like most and what do you like least about Madame Giry's character?
JL: Madame Giry is the quiet mysterious one...I love that about her because it's all very internal and tense and it's fun to portary that on a stage. She also has to bang her stick challenge is to do it as loudly as I can! Only thing I'm not so keen on is climbing up to the bridge in a long skirt very quickly...but that's pretty minor.

AL: Madame Giry's costume is probably one of the most subdued in the entire show, compared to some of the brightly coloured pieces that other characters wear. Do you have a favourite costume to wear?
JL: I do love Giry's costume despite its lack of colour because as soon as you're in it you feel in character...but also I'm very lucky to have some amazing costumes in my ensemble plot. My favourite is my purple Madam Firmin's stunning, and very expensive!

AL: Do you have a favourite song/scene to perform and why?
JL: I LOVE the managers scenes as Madame Giry. I think they are so well written and so full of minor detail. You can follow one character during the number and get so much information about them.

AL: If you could play any role in any musical, what would it be and why?
JL: I have always loved the character Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and would love to play her. I enjoy comedy and haven't had much opportunity to use it in my career so far.

AL: Do you have a birthday message for Phantom and its fans?
JL: I would like to say that Phantom appreciates it's fans so much. You're the reason we are still here at 25 and we want you to know we hold as much love for it onstage as you guys do from out front!

Thank you once again Jo!

Joanna is currently scheduled to play Madame Giry on the following dates: 3-5 November and 1-3 December. If you can get to see her at all on those dates, please do!

You can also follow Joanna on Twitter @joloxton

COMING SOON: The Globe, The V&A, The Lyric, Phantom & Interview with Stephen John Davis