Dear WOS: What are relaxed performances?

In our new series, WhatsOnStage answers frequently asked questions posed by theatregoers. Here we help with relaxed performances

Joseph Ayre as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Joseph Ayre as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Dear WhatsOnStage,

My 10 year-child is autistic and I would love to take him to the theatre, especially a pantomime, but he can get distressed in an unfamiliar environment. I’ve heard about "relaxed performances", but can you tell me more about them and how I can book one? Mrs S

Dear Mrs S

A relaxed performance is a specially adapted show, modified for adults and children who might benefit from a more relaxed environment. Typically, they are for people who have autism or have sensory communication disorders or learning difficulties and some theatres also occasionally run them for people with dementia. As a mother of an autistic child, I am sure you can appreciate that a standard performance of a show can be unsettling for people with the above conditions. This could be because of the darkness of the auditorium, the loud music and sudden noises on stage, not to mention the expectation that your child must sit still and quiet for a relatively long period of time.

Relaxed performances differ from theatre to theatre, so you should always check with each venue first. But generally, at a relaxed performance it is a more informal atmosphere; the house lights don’t go down as much as they normally would and in some cases are kept on entirely. Strobe lighting is avoided and if there is music then it tends to be played more quietly with no loud or sudden sound effects.

Often venues will also provide a "chill-out" zone for you to take your son to if he becomes distressed and quite often the theatre staff and the cast will have been briefed on how to help children with your son’s special needs.

Perhaps most importantly there is an acceptance that if your son chatters, shouts out, makes noises or fidgets, it’s absolutely fine! Tutting is most definitely not tolerated so that you can also relax without worrying that his behaviour is disrupting other patrons.

So many amazing and reputable theatre venues and companies now schedule in a relaxed performance of their productions just as they would a signed or audio-described performance, so always check with the box office to see if such an option is available. If your local venue doesn’t offer relaxed performances why not write to the artistic director or general manager asking them to consider doing one in the future?

The Unicorn Theatre by London Bridge is absolutely brilliant at making theatre accessible to as many young people as possible, staging relaxed performances of all of its shows in a beautiful building. Visit www.unicorntheatre.com for full details of their performance schedule but if you can’t get there, then we have compiled a list of other upcoming relaxed performances up and down the country. We hope that you find something to take your son to and that you both have an amazing time. Everybody deserves the chance to experience and enjoy live theatre!

Best wishes

Please note that all information was correct at the time of going to press and WhatsOnStage cannot be held responsible for changes or cancellations of the following:

Wednesday 11 October
Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe, London) at 2pm

Thursday 12 October
Awful Auntie (New Theatre, Oxford) at 1.30pm
Our Town (Royal Exchange, Manchester) at 2.30pm
Reasons to be Cheerful (West Yorkshire Playhouse) at 1.30pm

Wednesday 18 October
Laika (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 10.30am

Wednesday 25 October
Beowulf (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 1pm

Saturday 29 October
Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion (Arcola Theatre, London) at 3pm

Thursday 2 November
Beowulf (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 1pm

Sunday 5 November
Laika (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 2pm
The Lorax (Old Vic Theatre, London) at 2.30pm

Wednesday 15 November
Jubilee (Royal Exchange, Manchester) at 5pm
Around the World in 80 Days (Arts Theatre, Cambridge) at

Saturday 25 November
Awful Auntie (New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham) at 10am

Wednesday 29 November
Boing! (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 10.15am

Thursday 30 November
Roller (Barbican Theatre, London) at 7.45pm

Friday 1 December
Crumble's Search for Christmas (West Yorkshire Playhouse) at 4.30pm

Saturday 2 December
Cinderella (Hackney Empire, London) at 2.30pm

Friday 8 December
The Velveteen Rabbit (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 11am

Tuesday 12 December
Aladdin (Princess Theatre, Torquay) at 1pm
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds) at 12pm

Wednesday 13 December
Snow Mouse (Barbican Pit, London) at 10.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm until 23 December
Daisy Pulls if Off (Park Theatre, London) at 7.30pm

Thursday 14 December
Dick Whittington (Opera House, Manchester) at 1pm

Saturday 16 December
The Velveteen Rabbit (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 1pm
Boing! (Unicorn Theatre, London) at 2:30pm

Friday 22 December
Beauty and the Beast (Grand Opera House, York) at 6.30pm

Thursday 28 December
Aladdin (Hippodrome, Bristol) at 2pm

Saturday 30 December
The Borrowers (Sherman Theatre, Cardiff) at 2pm

Tuesday 2 January
Rapunzel (Theatre Royal Stratford East, London) at 1.30pm

Wednesday 3 January
Guys and Dolls (Royal Exchange, Manchester) at 2.30pm
Cinderella (Empire, Liverpool) at 2pm
Robin Hood (New Victoria, Woking) at 7pm

Friday 5 January
Sleeping Beauty (King's Theatre, Glasgow) at 11am

Wednesday 10 January
Aladdin (Richmond Theatre, London) at 1pm
Sinbad the Sailor (Theatre Royal Stratford East, London) at 2pm

Saturday 12 January
The Snowman (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton) at 11am

Tuesday 30 January
Black Men Walking (Royal Exchange, Manchester) at 2.30pm

Thursday 1 February
A Christmas Carol (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford) at 1.15pm

Tuesday 20 February
The Almighty Sometimes (Royal Exchange, Manchester) at 5pm

Saturday 17 March
Pinocchio (National Theatre, London) at 2pm

Thursday 3 May
Our Country's Good (Theatre Royal Stratford East) at 1pm

June 2018 (tickets not yet on sale)
The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre, London)

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