29/07/2021

Hairspray at The London Coliseum | Review (inc. accessibility review)

Well, this is a little odd. The last theatre review I posted was February 2020, just one month before we entered our first lockdown and our theatres shut. It's taken me a little while to feel ready to return to my passion, but last weekend I finally stepped foot in a West End theatre again. Like many disabled people I was nervous, not only about the Covid side of things, but also I'm out of practice when it comes to navigating the West End's inaccessibility, how would I cope with it? It turns out I picked the perfect show as my first one back though, as you'll see from my accessibility review things couldn't have gone better. And the show itself? It was a ridiculous amount of fun! I'm not ashamed to say that I sobbed my way through the first few numbers, these past 18 months of theatres being mostly shut just hit me all at once. It was beyond wonderful to be back. 

The cast of Hairspray the musical in the West End are performing on stage in 60s brightly coloured costumes, the cast is a mix of black and white performers with the character Tracy Turnblad leading them, wearing a pink dress.

Hairspray is one of those shows that even non-theatre fans can tell you about, it keeps coming back again and again and I finally found out why. The story of Tracy Turnblad fulfilling her dreams whilst smashing through the barriers the world puts in her way, against the backdrop of segregation and racism of the 60s couldn't feel more current right now. As conversations around racism, and particularly racism in the theatre industry, have taken off over this past year Hairspray serves as an important reminder of where we've been and where we should be going. It demonstrates the importance of allies standing with black people. 

Lizzie Bea embodies Tracy perfectly, the definition of perfect casting. Within minutes you can see how dynamic her performance will be, and how much passion she has for her job. She has one of the clearest and strongest voices I've heard in a long while. She balanced humour and emotion like she's been doing this for decades, if anything makes you book this show, let it be her. 

The standout performance of the day had to be Marisha Wallace belting out 'I Know Where I've Been', it felt so painfully relevant and truly moved me to tears. I don't think there was a single person in that room that didn't have goosebumps. I have to give a mention to Jordan Benjamin too, I was beyond lucky to witness his debut as Seaweed, and he couldn't have performed better. It was so wonderful to watch the rest of the cast congratulate him at the curtain call, and a true reminder of why I love theatre so much.

Marisha Wallace is performing on stage at Hairspray the musical in the west end as Motormouth Mabel, she is wearing a long purple coat with a 60s print on it and a blonde curly wig.

The rest of the cast were incredibly strong, with a ensemble that danced their socks off throughout. Of course many will be watching this show to see Michael Ball and Les Dennis as Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, and their performance was the comedic joy I hoped for. 

The staging, the lighting, the set, all of it was just exceptional, with the whole theatre being used to tell the story. I went into the show knowing I would like it, but I never expected to come out of it loving it so much! I was truly beaming by the end, it was one of the most fun and joyful shows I've ever watched, you couldn't help but smile when leaving the theatre.

Accessibility Review

On to the accessibility now, but first I do have to mention an offensive disability slur that was used in the show that disappointed me. The word 'spastic' was used as an insult, and I really don't believe its use was vital to the plot. It was a throwaway comment, and therefore has no place in a show in 2021. 

The actual accessibility of the London Coliseum really blew me away however. This was my first visit and before the day even came around I was already impressed. Wheelchair users can enjoy a wide variety of seating options including, 2 spaces in the stalls, 4 spaces in stalls boxes and 2 more spaces in the dress circle. There are also a further 6 transfer seats across the dress circle and the balcony, accessed by two lifts which enable access to most levels of the auditorium and all the restaurants and bars. On top of this there are accessible toilets on 4 out of 5 levels of the theatre. A pretty good start I'd say!

We opted to sit in one of the stalls boxes, Box G, as with theatres now selling at full capacity I do feel more comfortable sat in a box so we have a little more space between us and others. We paid £25 each for our tickets. 

The view from stalls box G at the London Coliseum. The stage is lit up purple and are a few people taking their seats.

Wheelchair users can enter the theatre via the main doors, something I hadn't expected actually as I'd never noted that one seat of doors is ramped before, so that was a pleasant surprise. The step free access inside is so exceptional that I didn't need to be followed around by a front of house staff member, it was really lovely to just enter and be directed to the right area like everyone else. We stopped off at the merchandise stand and then made our way to our box.

Having never been inside the theatre before I expected us to have a restricted side view, but as you can see from the photos, we had an exceptional view. I was really quite taken aback. If you're thinking of visiting as a wheelchair user then I strongly recommended you opt for one of the stalls boxes. We had our own little space and the most incredible view throughout. 

A few people have asked about how theatre trips look now with Covid thrown into the mix, so here was my experience when visiting once all restrictions had been lifted. Auditorium doors were open an hour before the show, and we turned up not long after they opened which meant it was really quiet inside and for the most part we could distance ourselves from others. Mask wearing was at about 75%, and there were regular audio reminders to keep your mask on. Sitting in a box meant we felt that little bit safer too. For the most part I felt safe, safer than I've felt in a supermarket or just in a busy town centre. 

The programme for Hairspray the musical is building held up inside the theatre, the stage is lit up purple behind it.

I think it's obvious to see that from my personal perspective, the Coliseum's accessibility gets a big tick from me! I'll be keeping an eye on what shows go in there in the future as I'm really eager to return now. 

In terms of the rest of the accessibility, guide dogs and assistance dogs are very welcome at the theatre, but I couldn't find any dates for accessible performances. Perhaps the information is out there, but if it is, it's not easy to find. 

So, that was my first show back! And it has most certainly opened the floodgates with me having several more shows booked across the summer. I can't tell you how good it feels to be back. 

Hairspray is booking at The London Coliseum until 29th September 2021, book tickets here.

4 comments:

  1. That’s a great accessibility review. Please keep them coming

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  2. Hairspray is just such a glorious show to see, I'm so glad you went to see it on stage! Fantastic news about the accessibility and I look forward to further reviews.

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