Shrek – Relaxed Performance

Newcastle Theatre Royal – 24 March 2015

A line in one of the lyrics from Shrek is “What makes us Special – makes us Stronger” and today I saw a truly special performance of Shrek

In February the Theatre Royal was the first theatre to be honoured with the Autism Access Award from The National Autistic Society.  The award was granted following a year-long project working with local schools, families and specialists developing an all-inclusive approach to theatre in relation to the specific needs of theatre-goers with autism.

This relaxed performance was fantastic.  The theatre opened early to allow for all the extra people who needed to be manoeuvred in wheelchairs.  And face painters were on hand to decorate those who were happy to be adorned.  The cast entered the spirit of the occasion and came out in costume to meet and greet with the audience as they arrived.

The whole occasion was completely relaxed, down to the staff dressing informally and with painted faces.  The lights never came all the way down and the sound was down from the normal volume.

The show began with panto stalwart Danny Adams coming on stage and entertaining the crowds with some jokes before introducing the main cast of Shrek.  Starting with Lord Farquaad played by Gerard Carey, Donkey played by Idriss Kargbo, Princess Fiona played by Faye Brookes and the hero of the show Shrek played by Dean Chisnall.  Once everyone was happy the show began…

“Relaxed Performances” are specifically designed to welcome people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, learning disability or sensory and communication disorders into theatres to give those who otherwise might feel excluded the chance to experience live theatre.  They have a less formal, more supportive atmosphere in order to reduce anxiety levels. It is a specialist provision created to provide an opportunity for people who would otherwise find it difficult to  see a show  – for example people who make involuntary noise, or are likely to need to talk a lot, or move around. During a regular performance this can disturb the other audience members, and the show, but at a relaxed performance it’s fine.  There was a lot of noise but a lot of joy as the people attended really enjoyed themselves

I spoke to Dawn Taylor, Director of Operations at the theatre and she told me how proud she was to receive the honour from The National Autistic Society and just how much today meant to her.  Incredibly proud of her fabulous, hard working staff and happy at the way the show had gone, Dawn was also pleased at how well the the whole company from Shrek had entered into the spirit of this uplifting show.

It started later than advertised, the interval was later and longer than planned and at points the sound never got below a dull roar but it was a marvellous sight to behold.  In its purest form, Shrek celebrates equality and diversity and at the the Theatre Royal today we had a celebration too.