Wow! Jaw dropping!!
This review is especially helpful for those who have or use the following: Wheelchair
I took my oldest daughter as my carer. When we were trying to find the venue we found staff wandering around the local area promoting (Underbelly staff wear purple tshirts, the venues have purple entrances) so we asked for directions. The staff from that point on were attentive and knew what they were talking about which is always a plus. Once we got to the door we needed, (which were signposted with names of cows) I saw stairs and my heart sank. 2 members of staff saw us and told us that the access ramp was round the corner, it's actually a solid concrete slope rather than a mobility ramp and even that reassured me that access has been considered. The member of staff who escorted us to our seats took us through the door and round the back of the stage, it's pretty dark but the access is clear and the staff member led the way. When we got into the actual room they'd already worked out where to seat us so there was no fuss or panic. We were about 5 rows back and to be honest as the show started I was glas we were not closer to the stage as the action takes place on a screen suspended from the ceiling. My manual chair reclines but I didn't think about that and not everyone has that function. When the performance started there were 4 people centre stage, a lady to one side on a computer and a 3 piece band on the other side of the stage. I had no idea what to expect and that's part of the Festival experience. Manual Cinema come from Chicago and at the end they took time to meet the audience and answer questions about their 'craft'. That's not something all performers do, but it's something I appreciate, I usually have questions and can't get answers. They actually didn't design the show with disabled awareness in mind, but it works. The screen being higher than heads means I could see everything without stretching or craning my neck. I didn't need to ask the people in front of me to move to accomodate me. The stage is visible and the performers move around which adds something to 'just' the puppet type shadow work on the screen above, I was watching the 4 operators put the screen overlays on the overhead projectors to create the scenes and the people acting at the same time and then could see it all come together on the screen above. Very subtle and really effective. The lady operating the computer for lighting and effects sang too and her voice was lovely. The musicians added drama and tempo nicely which is also great to watch. I saw Lula Del Ray which was a touching story about a girl's dreams and her relationship with her mum, her imagination and music. I like pieces which encourage thinking or self exploration so the style used was really effective for this. Puppetry is often seen as for kids, or passe, but there was something contemporary and fresh about their approach. When the show was over again staff were efficient and helpful to make sure we were looked after, and the Venue Manager asked if everything had been what we'd expected as we left. To that point it all was. Unfortunately, when I went to use the toilet after the show I found an area for improvement, the accessible toilet is small, I struggled to turn my manual chair to get in and out, on the way out the door and my chair had a fight 4 times before I was clear to get out. There is another toilet with a disabled sign, but it's a gents and there's no disabled toilets or adaptions to help. I did point this out to staff who were apologetic but not sure what solutions could be offered. The additional toilets in the quad outside have steps, they are portacabin style ones so I think there's potential to put an accessible one there. I'd be really concerned about taking a power chair or larger manual in to that toilet (mine is a 30") but I was unable to find an alternative.
Transport & Parking
Like most of the city parking is not straightforward, George Square is closed for the Festival so the best option is to park opposite Central Mosque and walk through as it's pedestrianised from there. Buses are frequent and accessible, this is the option we use anywhere in the city.
The access was perfect, signage was clear. Staff were helpful. Chairs were moved quickly to make sure I had room and the people in front and behind me had space without my wheelchair interfering.
It was clean and tidy and easy to find. BUT it's a tight squeeze in a manual chair and took some effort to get out successfully. I'd be worried about the turning circle in a power chair but could not find an alternative.
I cannot fault the staff, every member of the team was clear, knowledgeable and happy to help, I even said that to the Venue Manager.
Anything else you wish to tell us?
My daughters and I are used to there being issues and feeling like going out is a pain. Finding places which go out of their way to make sure you enjoy an experience is rare. The Festival is billing itself as being more accessible but after 70 years it's not easy to believe. To date everything which has claimed to be accessible has been, it means we relax and enjoy things more rather than worrying. I see this improving year on year to be honest and I'm looking forward to being able to Enjoy more and more events, that's exciting! The Underbelly staff told me the only one of their venues which is inaccessible is Underbelly Cowgate which is hard to get to anyway. The fact they could answer that is useful and I appreciate how much effort is being afforded to making sure disabled access is suitable.