Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Friday, October 01, 2004 ::
Mat Fraser (pictured) has been kicking up a storm by daring to suggest that the Disability Discrimination Act (2004) should apply to theatres. Encore knows of a number of West End theatre owners who are hoping to shelter behind the listing of their buildings and the grey areas implied by the act's requirement for 'reasonable adjustments'. In fact, they just don't want to spend money if they can avoid it.
As we all know - unless we're unlucky enough to be excluded from these buildings because of an impairment - no serious work has been done across the West End since these theatres were built. Occasional adjustments to the seatings have been required by fire regulations and occasionally the bar get a lick of paint, but it remains the case that most West End theatres are cramped, unpleasant, tatty and nasty places to spend an evening. We know well how reluctant the theatre owners are to spend money.
Now Fraser is threatening that a raft of court actions will be launched against non-compliant theatres. We want to raise our voice in support of his case. It is obvious: to exclude anyone from the theatre because of their impairment is unjust and immoral. It's right that these theatres should be forced to change. The Royal Court is an excellent example of how a theatre of the nineteenth century can be remodelled as a theatre for the twenty-first. The Whitehall's Trafalgar Studios show how a dynamic contemporary space can be carved out of one of the worst theatres in London. The single rake that the National created in the Lyttelton auditorium for their experimental season two years ago is another great example of how bad theatres can be transformed.
The theatre owners will undoubtedly cry penury. They barely make a profit; conversions to these listed buildings will be ruinously expensive; it is only through their goodwill, financial acumen, and love of the bricks and mortar that these temples of thespis can stay open.
Encore is sure that is true. And that is why we need to revive a fifty-year-old aspiration of the left and nationalise the theatres.