Theatre and arts

Hearing loss does not mean giving up on cultural events like going to the theatre, but it can feel like a difficult barrier.

The anticipation of seeing a performance, enjoying the atmosphere and the performance can provide a diversion from daily life. This is beneficial for our wellbeing and helps reduces isolation.

Advances in technology, together with captioned and signed performances, make the theatre more accessible for people with hearing loss.

Here, our peer support volunteers have compiled some useful information and tips to help make a theatre or arts experience as inclusive as possible:

  • Find out what plays, musicals or dance performances are on offer
  • How to get tickets
  • What technology you can make use of.

Captioned and British Sign Language (BSL) performances

Some theatres provide in-house captioning. Firstly, find the play, musical or events that looks appealing, and email the venue to find out what’s on offer e.g. captioned or signed performance.

Stagetext is a deaf-led charity passionate about making culture accessible to all. The organisation, founded in 2000, captions over 300 theatre productions each year.

Their newsletter offers regular updates on what theatre productions are showing throughout the UK. On their listings page is more about the production and booking options available.

To purchase tickets, phone or email the box office using the access email address provided and pay once tickets have been reserved.

In Scotland, Access Scottish Theatre, also lists accessible events in venues across the country. They list audio described, BSL, captioned and relaxed performances. Search for events or download their guide for up-to-date information.

Ticket discounts

Theatregoers with hearing loss are entitled to two tickets at up to half the normal price for themself and a companion. Consider bringing a companion to a performance because if anything unexpected occurs e.g. fire alarm, that requires a public announcement, it will not be captioned.

Box office staff are only too happy to advise on seating and pricing. This is important to make sure people with hearing loss sit with a clear view of the stage and captions. When booking, ask for advice on the best seats available in each price band.

Depending on the theatre, visitors may need to fill in an ‘Access Form’ which will generate a reference number. Sometimes, proof of disability is required for some theatres, such as the ATG (The Ambassador Theatre Group), which has an Access Membership Scheme.

Assistive devices at the National Theatre

The National Theatre offers several assistive devices, in addition to captioning screens, that should be requested in advance to avoid disappointment.

Its three theatres – Olivier, Lyttleton and Dorfman – also have an infra-red hearing enhancement system (the headsets can be collected upon arrival).

Both the Olivier and the Lyttelton Theatres offer hearing loops and a personal neck-loop can be requested at the Dorfman Theatre from the Dorfman cloakroom.

Smart Caption Glasses for non-captioned performances; display a transcription of the dialogue and a description of the sounds on stage on the lenses. They can be worn over normal glasses. They are not suitable for performances of over three hours.

Theatregoers with disabilities can join their Access Scheme which will ensure that all individual requirements can be met.

Hearing dogs and other assistance dogs are welcome at the National Theatre and other theatres. It is advised to let them know when booking tickets so they can offer an aisle seat and provide information about the performance which might impact on the dog.

Mobile captioning

This new technology works via a free mobile app (application) called GalaPro. It uses airplane mode and displays a red or grey font on a black background to minimise brightness. It is now in use at London’s Adelphi Theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Cambridge Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre.

It is an exciting development, but the use of mobile phones in theatres is still in its infancy. It may not suit everyone because, in general, people prefer captions to be at eye level with the stage offering an immersive experience. If you wear glasses for reading, it could be difficult and tiring to switch from reading phone captions to action on the stage throughout the performance.

Online theatre performances

An alternative to live theatre productions are online theatre performance. Stagetext lists upcoming online shows, many of which are free, but ticket booking or fee may be required.

Scenesaver, is a free online hub offering a wide range of productions from off West End and fringe theatres from around the world. Viewers can choose from many genres from dance to music, comedy and plays. Captioned, audio-described and signed options are available.

Webpage published: August 2023

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