At the Festival Hall (RFH) last night, where Stockhausen’s Gruppen lit up areas of my brain that would otherwise exist in complete darkness, I felt huge gratitude to the – many – venues that really do have good access and, yes, the RFH is one of them.
We pulled up and unloaded onto pavement outside the side entrance, straight to lift, level 4, wheel to space – four minutes from door to seat. And a really kind security man allowed us to park – on what was a very quiet night – right outside too. Brilliant. As was the concert. Modern classical music is something a bit different for me and this was a great first time experience with a three-orchestra Stockhausen and some really lovely pieces by Luigi Nono.
If you are arts inclined, and a nervous power chair user like me, the entire Southbank Centre is remarkably good on access – lots of easy, level areas to unload, free and easy parking, working lifts, level entrances, wheelchair spaces with companion seats adjacent, really brilliant pricing with a free companion ticket, online booking available. RFH, National Theatres, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Hayward Gallery … the only exception is The Purcell Room (PR) which has unreliable stairlift access and heart attack inducing ramps for back up – wouldn’t want to try those ramps in my Balder! (Improved access all round, including the PR, is included In the Southbank’s redevelopment plans). Even with minor access quibbles (mostly re breakdown and redevelopment closures) on occasion, this is my default arts venue with a broad and varied offering in almost all the arts.
My other power chair default venue – for film this time – is the Westfield Shopping Centre. OMG. It is fantastic for my power chair – the wheelie equivalent of an ice rink. I love it. Huge open spaces with shiny glossy surfaces that my wheels glide over with a grace and style unseen elsewhere. No bumps, cracks, boulders, narrow spaces, awkward corners. Sure, sure, lots of people but have you seen a Balder? My wheels are serious wheels. People scatter before me and in my wake. Plus … I have control. The chair responds instantly to my touch here. I sway, spin and turn on a dime. It is bliss. It brings tears of joy to my eyes. If only the rest of the outside world were like this. My life would be … gods, just so much easier, freer, independent, fun.
In the real world however, Westfields has a MyVue with lift access to all the screens. They have a ludicrous carer card system so I’ve never bothered to get one but online booking for wheelchair spaces is now available and seems to work well so far. Of course, mostly the films are blockbusters so of limited interest but they have so many screens that sometimes lower budget indies, live opera or theatre may be shown. Recently, I saw Blue Jasmine and a couple of years ago, there was a 3D Pina Bausch documentary which was fab. If that sounds like I only go occasionally, I do like seeing blockbusters too so am there 2-4 times a month on average. Am not keen on the smaller screens some of which only have wheelchair spaces at the front – I hate that – but the big screens and the Scene screens are all good.
Having given due praise, isn’t the price of cinema shocking now? In the Scene, it’s almost £40 for two tickets! Frankly, it’s no wonder most of us prefer a night in with a downloaded film for a few pounds. Unless cinemas up their game, I’m not sure they will survive the digital age which is kind of a shame. I’ve always loved going to see a film but when someone like me prefers the at-home experience, I think they’re in trouble.