The Royal Albert Hall will stage a day of "relaxed performance" on 20 December, with a committed focus on increasing the venue's accessibility. Conductor Richard Cooke will be present, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Choral Society, and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. The event will consist of a programme of the world's favourite Christmas carols, accompanied by the venue's renowned Voice of Jupiter 9,999 pipe organ.
The Royal Albert Hall has hosted relaxed performances before; these events have taken place in theatres and arts venues across the world and are particularly encouraged by disability advocates for their profound effect on the accessibility of the arts. The Royal Albert Hall website details the intent behind the system: "These events are specially designed to be suitable for children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities, as well as individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted."
The venue presents these events as "less formal", encouraging those that feel overwhelmed during the performance to feel free to dip out and spend time in various "chill out spaces" found throughout the Hall. These spaces are essential for individuals with sensory issues and autism, who may have trouble processing the mixed sounds and visuals of a performance. "Chill out spaces" will often feature soft furnishings, low intensity lighting, and a quiet, peaceful ambience. This gives people a chance to reset, relax, and take medication or engage in tube feeding.
In order to make the music itself more accessible, sudden loud sound effects will either be reduced or removed entirely. Additionally, there will be a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter during all spoken word sections of the performance.
In terms of infrastructure, along with the "chill out spaces", there will be a Mobiloo facility, which comes equipped with an electric hoist, changing table, toilet, and wash-basin. Hand driers will be switched off in all bathrooms, with paper towels provided instead.
To assist with any potential issues involving attendance, the doors will open early, there will be a relaxed refund policy, and additional staff members will be employed to help with any questions throughout the building. Wheelchair access will also be extended. For all information involving the accessibility measures of the Royal Albert Hall, click here.
Doors will open to the event at 10:00am, whilst the performance begins at 11:00am. It will last until 12:15pm, with an interval in the middle. Tickets cost £10 for children, £15 for adults, and £40 for a family of four.
The history of relaxed performances can be traced back to the 90s, although they have gained momentum in the past six years. They expanded from autism-friendly cinemas and theatres to include many other forms of accessibility. In 2012, eight theatres engaged with the Relaxed Performance Project, which was led by Include Arts' Kirsty Hoyle. Crucially, this project moved the idea away from focusing on specific age groups and conditions, and more towards accommodating as many individuals as possible.
This event will help to make the spirit of Christmas more accessible, and whilst work still needs to be done to extend the measures implemented during relaxed performances to more events, it is still a welcome addition to the festive season.