Monday, 7 January 2019

A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic | Review

Christmas might be over but the festive spirit is more than alive still and can be found in The Old Vic until January 19th!

Start as you mean to go on they say, and so I kicked off my 2019 in the best way possible, with a theatre trip! I was very kindly invited along to The Old Vic to see A Christmas Carol and to hear about all of the access improvements they are making in the theatre this year. It was my first visit to The Old Vic and my first play and let me tell you, neither of them disappointed.

 Photo by Manuel Harlan
 Photo by Manuel Harlan
Photo by Manuel Harlan

A Christmas Carol is a classic that has been done time and time again and in so many different ways but for me this production adapted by Jack Thorne, who has credits like Harry Potter & the Cursed Child to his name, truly is up there with the best versions of this timeless story. Having never seen a play before I wondered whether losing concentration would be a problem but I couldn't have been more wrong as I gripped from start to finish.

This isn't just a show, it's an immersive theatre experience like nothing I've experienced before. It's a treat for all of the senses as you're offered a mince pie and orange as you take your seats, the room quickly being filled up by the smell of both. The music used is enchanting and I found myself looking around the whole stage with a smile on my face as I soaked in the atmosphere. It truly felt like the audience were part of this production.

The staging and set was simple but memorising, the words the actors spoke were enough on their own to capture the audience but the set just gave it that little extra magic and wonder. Stephen Tompkinson quite frankly gave a masterclass in acting, the emotions he conveyed and the way he played Scrooge to me just made so much sense and gave a completely different angle to the story. He is on stage for so much of the show and yet not once did I find myself not being completed engaged in what he was doing or saying.

 Photo by Manuel Harlan
Photo by Manuel Harlan

Prior to doing some research before the show I was more than expecting Tiny Tim to be played by non-disabled actors, as so often happens within these industries, so when I found out that all 4 children who play Tiny Tim are in fact disabled themselves, I was over the moon. As a disabled theatre fan there are not enough words to describe how much it means to see a disabled person being booked for roles like this, roles that should always go to someone with a lived experience. I hope other theatres and creative teams see this and follow suit because it's about time. I had Luka Petrovic on as Tiny Tim and I was just completely blown away, as I always am by child actors, by his talent and professionalism.

I don't want to ruin anything for those who are going, and to those who aren't you should book tickets right now, but there are some truly heart warming and beautiful moments and some wonderful surprises that just made me so happy I was on the edge of tears. It was simply one of the most breathtaking pieces of theatre I've had the pleasure to witness.

The Old Vic are putting on 3 access performances of A Christmas Carol, an audio described performance with a touch tour on January 8th, a captioned performance on January 10th and an open/relaxed performance at the matinee performance on January 12th.

 Photo by Manuel Harlan
Photo by Manuel Harlan

The Old Vic is just over 200 years old and also an Grade 2 listed building so I think I just always assumed that as a wheelchair user I couldn't even get in, when actually their access is better than some newer theatres I've tried to visit! I was invited along to see the show and also to learn more about the current access and the plans to improve it this year and in the future. I have to say it was one of the most refreshing conversations I've ever had about access in theatres.

Wheelchair access at The Old Vic is via a side entrance, which is a fairly common experience for me and many theatres are more than happy to offer that kind of experience to disabled people. Not being able to access a theatre foyer, box office or bar has become the norm for many wheelchair users but The Old Vic are leading the way by saying that isn't good enough. So, starting this month after raising the funds needed work begins to make the foyer and the basement cafe accessible for disabled patrons. They are going to be taking out a whole wall to make this happen, as well as installing a lift to allow access to the basement. They'll also be doubling the number of ladies toilets, which I'm sure is a very welcome improvement! They hope to take the number of wheelchair spaces they have from 2 to 10 eventually too, which would be incredible to see since they are a 1,000 seat theatre, a lot bigger than it appears.

View from wheelchair space (P7)

The long term plans for the future could see The Old Vic become one of the most accessible theatres in London for patrons, staff and actors, it was exciting to hear about but it's all very much long term ambitious plans that rely on a lot of outside funding since they depend so heavily on public support. Which I think is why they see the importance of access, they want to give an equal experience to every person who supports them to stay open.

As said before, the access for wheelchair users and other disabled patrons is currently via a side entrance and a very steep ramp, because of the pavement the ramp can't be very long which means as a result it's steep so it's something to keep in mind if you're visiting. The disabled toilet is right by the entrance, it's not very big although I still managed to turn around in it in my rather large mid wheel drive powerchair. The door slides across rather than outwards or inwards, which really helps. There are currently 2 wheelchair spaces in the stalls, I sat in P7 which was less than 10 metres from the stage. Photos on Seat Plan had made it look a lot further away than it is, in fact I think it's the closest I've ever sat to a stage.

The wheelchair space was on a platform that levelled out the floor, not something I need since I have a tilt function on my powerchair but being a little higher than others was something I enjoyed and I think manual wheelchair users especially would appreciate the extra height. Staff were able to get me a programme and drink and came and checked on me during the interval which I appreciated, as well as communicating with me about the plan to get me out as where the wheelchair space was meant I got caught up in a big crowd so that communication was greatly appreciated. It really was up there with some of my best theatre experiences, in terms of access and the production. You can learn more about their current access and the future plans on the website.



I really am so excited to follow the progress of the renovation work this year, it should be all finished by Autumn of this year which is impressive considering they've a whole lift to put it! I can't begin to tell you how encouraging it was to have a conversation with a theatre so dedicated to access, they are even beginning to consider things like having a Changing Places eventually but again due to space, these are very long term plans. They are more committed to access than most London theatres and I can only hope others witness the benefits of improved access and follow suit, The Old Vic are proving that a listed status building shouldn't be a barrier to equal access.

A Christmas Carol is still playing at The Old Vic until January 19th so if you're looking to cling on to the festive season for a little longer then get yourself over there to see it, it is well worth the trip! It's a real shame that such a high quality piece of theatre is only on stage over Christmas but I cannot wait to see more productions at the theatre this year!
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2 comments

  1. Completely agree, it's such a beautiful show! I saw the audio described performance last night, which was wonderful. I was in the seat at the end of row K just in front of where you were, it was a great position. I assumed VocalEyes were doing the AD, but The Old Vic are actually providing it in-house now, with VocalEyes having helped them set it up, so that's brilliant. And the touch tour on stage was great - during which we got to meet the child playing Tiny Tim, and I was just as delighted as you to learn they were casting disabled actors in that role. And it's great that they're working so hard to make the theatre so accessible. I hope you get to go there for more shows soon. It's the second time I've been there in recent months, having seen A Monster Calls last year, it's a great place.

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    1. I'm so glad you loved it too! Delighted to share that I've been invited back to see The American Clock and All My Sons over the coming months, which I cannot wait to see! It's ignited a love for plays within a very musical central person! x

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