"Health and safety hazards in West End theatres" London Warnings Or Dangers Tip by CatherineReichardt

London Warnings and Dangers: 667 reviews and 459 photos

Attending a West End musical is one of the absolute highlights of a visit to London, and well worth the expense. Having been lucky enough to indulge in two West End musicals - the excellent Billy Elliott and the stupendously wonderful Oliver! - during my recent trip, this travel tip is written (only partly) tongue in cheek!

West End theatre has been part of London life for centuries, and many of the theatres are now a couple of hundred years old. The upside of this is that they are beautiful, atmospheric buildings steeped in history - and the downside is that you'd never be allowed to design a new theatre with the same configuration as one of the old ones because they are not compatible with modern expectations regarding public access.

I bought tickets in the 'circle' - the upstairs bit for the uninitiated - because (though hellishly expensive) they were all I could afford. I hadn't been to a theatre in the West End for over 20 years, and it came as a nasty shock to remember that few - if any - of these theatres have lifts. Most access the circle via a staircase adjacent to the foyer, and it's a long, relentless climb up!

As I emerged from the access staircase, I was struck by an unexpected wave of vertigo - something I don't usually suffer from - as I looked down towards the stage. The seating rears up from the orchestra pit at an alarmingly steep angle, and though it arguably lends an air of intimacy to the venue, I found it made me feel slightly dizzy and somewhat unsettled. The steepness of the terraces on which the seats are mounted would also make it very easy for someone taking a tumble to do themselves some nasty damage as you could fall quite a distance (although there are barriers which would stop you plummeting onto the lower level).

Stage visibility can also be limited from seats on the extreme edges of the circle, so make sure when you're booking that you select tickets as close to the centre as possible.

So, if you are a thoughtful and generous soul who is considering treating someone to a West End theatre trip, give a thought to their health and mobility before you select tickets: the elderly and those suffering from limited mobility and vertigo probably won't be able to access seats in the circle. And for those who are staying with friends or family, and are looking for the ideal gift to express their gratitude to their hosts, theatre tickets are a sure fire winner with most people, since although most Londoners wax lyrical about the wonders of West End theatre, few actually venture there regularly!

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  • Updated Jan 24, 2012
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