Relaxed performances are becoming increasingly popular in theatres across the UK, perhaps due to the rising demand for tolerance and accessibility within the arts, which only increases the reach of modern theatre to audiences that might not normally be able to enjoy more mainstream plays. Billed as a welcoming environment that is specifically designed for individuals with special needs (including those on the Autistic Spectrum and those with learning disabilities), relaxed performances are often adapted slightly to make it more enjoyable, less confusing, and more accessible for those that might appreciate such a benefit.
Sometimes, relaxed performances are also aimed at parents with babies, to enable them to attend a show without the fear that their child might make noise during the performance.
The Almeida is one such theatre that hosts relaxed performances, generally as a matinee, and Leo Butler’s new play Boy was perfectly pitched for such an audience. Some of the actors from the 19-strong cast introduced themselves on stage, and pointed out some of the main features of the set, including the moving walkway and the way that the actors might use it, and some sights and sounds.
They even introduced the live dog that makes a brief appearance. These introductions were as much to reduce any shock and discomfort audience members might experience when witnessing such things within the context of the performance, as well as to put the audience members at ease. Finally, health and safety rules were outlined, such as impressing on the audience the necessity that they did not actually come onto the stage, before the show began.
The actors in Boy were unperturbed by any unexpected noise and activity amongst the audience. Some spectators talked throughout, often pointing out things about the show that interested them, and others left and re-entered the auditorium when desired; the Almeida provided a special ‘chill out’ room for individuals if the show became a bit overwhelming, and there were plentiful volunteers on hand to assist. There were minor changes to the lighting, again so as not to cause any unnecessary surprise. Yet whilst the performance was specially adapted in some ways, in others it remained the same. The language was bold, there was some instances of violence and threat as part of the story, and various sexual actions and references were present. This show, which is rated as 14+, aimed to become more accessible for individuals that might require such adaptations, yet was not intended to patronise the teens and young adults that attended. Moreover, the story, for a reviewer like me, was barely affected by things that may be deemed ‘disturbances’ in a normal performance environment; I enjoyed myself immensely.
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There were activity packs and workshops to accompany the relaxed performance of Boy, and the actors were at the exit to meet audience members, giving a complete sensorial experience for all. These performances really do seem well worth attending for anyone that might benefit from such an informal approach, and the learning tools and low price tag that accompany such an event are indicative of a growing need for accessibility with in the arts – accessibility for all.
By Amy Stow
At a bus stop.
Master of observation, Leo Butler casts a sharp eye over contemporary London and picks out someone for us to follow. Someone easily missed amongst the crowd.
Following last year’s groundbreaking production of Game, the innovative director-designer team Sacha Wares andMiriam Buether return to the Almeida to bring this ambitious exploration of austerity-era London to life. They are joined by an award-winning creative team and an exciting young company of actors.
Written by Leo Butler, who has quietly established himself as one of the UK’s most talented political playwrights, Boy is an important new play about coming of age in 21st-century London
BY LEO BUTLER
DIRECTED BY SACHA WARES