Fascinating venue, overall good step free access but a couple of things to be aware of
This review is especially helpful for those who have or use the following: Walking Aid
The Vaults is an alternative theatre/ comedy venue located in converted railway arches and tunnels underneath Waterloo Station. It's more accessible than it might first sound, with step free access and accessible toilets, but there are a couple of things to look out for, such as very low lighting levels and the underground tunnels and venue areas might feel claustrophobic to some people. I visited to see a performance of "What The Dolls Saw" a dark comedy thriller by The House of Macabre. It was part of the Vaults Festival and it's limited run there ended on 9th February 2020. The play was brilliant a darkly gothic thriller with comedy, music and shadow puppetry and well worth seeing. The performance took place in "The Pit", one of small performance venues in The Vaults.
Transport & Parking
The nearest tube station is Waterloo. However only the Jubilee line has step free access. There are several buses that stop close by.
The entrance to The Vaults is via Leake Street Arches, a pedestrianised tunnel. There are entrances either end of Leake Street. Lower Marsh and York Road. LOWER MARSH ROUTE: This is the easiest, step free route to take if you are coming from Waterloo Station and the one I took to get there. There is a lift from the station concourse to Waterloo Road. From street level you will turn right on exiting the station, and then turn right into Baylis Road. You will then turn right again into Lower Marsh (you will see Cubana restaurant on the left with a large mural of a woman on its wall, see photo). Lower Marsh is a like a locals' high street with restaurants, pubs and shops. Continue along until you come to Leake Street, up until this point the route is level. At Leake Street, see photos, turn right and go down the ramp, which has rails on both sides. This will bring you into the Leake Street Arches see photos. It's a level, covered, pedestrianised tunnel which is decorated in graffiti. This lighting levels in this area are noticeably darker and if there are graffiti artists at work you will also smell their paint spray. You may need to take a moment to adjust to the change in environment. The first time I went I was unsure where I was going and to be honest a little daunted. However, as you are going for an event there are other people around and I find it fascinating and enjoy looking at the street art. There is a double barrier to navigate around, see photo and then the entrance to The Vaults is on the right. YORK ROAD ROUTE: I exited by this route and it is also step free. I turned right from exiting The Vaults. With this route you will see more of the Leake Street graffiti art work. At the end of the tunnel there are some bollards and then a short street with pavement with dropped kerb, which leads out into York Road. When you exit you are very near the London Eye and County Hall. There are a couple of bus routes that serve York Road. If you are wanting to return to Waterloo Station you will need to turn right and Waterloo Station is a short walk away on the right, however this is an entrance with steps only. You will have to continue pass the roundabout, and turn right onto Waterloo Road if you require a step free entrance to the station. Sorry for the long description. Back to arriving at the venue. The entrance door was already open and there is level access from street level to The Vaults. There was a barrier outside the entrance and there was one side to enter and the other to exit. When I arrived there was no queue so I was able to walk straight in. Immediately in front is a box office which is at standing height. Then there is a long tunnel like, windowless corridor with doors leading off for the different venues, with signs above telling you the name of the venue. The route is level. Once past the box office the lighting levels are very low and you might need some time to adjust to this, see photo. When the audience was permitted into the show the door was open, THE PIT: My show was in The Pit, which was the first door on the left. There was staff standing outside and when they were ready they opened the door and we were allowed to go in. It is a small theatre space. There is level access from the corridor and the seating area was also level. There were rows of wooden benches with back support and arms at the ends, with a central aisle, see photo. Seating was unreserved. There was a raised stage which was accessible by steps. The room had low levels of lighting and when they switched the lights off at the start of the performance it was pitch black for a few moments. After the show I walked through to the bar area, see photo. This was busy and quite noisy. There was free standing tables and low stools without back support.
There are 2 accessible toilets. There is one near the entrance, which is the one I used. It is in a row with other toilets. I was quite shocked when I went in, see photo. The cubicle was very small. To the right of the toilet was a support beam for the roof and on the left was a free standing baby changing table, which when I tried was too heavy to move. There were 2 grab rails, a drop down one next to the toilet and one behind the toilet and the support beam, so difficult to access. When I returned with Liz, a member of staff with the changing table and 2 of us in the toilet including me and my crutch there was no space. Liz agreed that the changing table would be moved out later the same day. I agreed I would write my review as it was when I visited, but acknowledge what they were planning to do in my review. The accessible toilet had no emergency cord and there was a communal sink was outside the cubicle with the hand dryer above it. Liz brought to my attention that there was a second accessible toilet which was located by the bar area. This involved walking the entire length of the corridor and through the bar. This toilet was larger. There were grab rails, a regular sink and a baby changing table in the corner.
Staff were wonderful. There was plenty of staff about during the festival. While I was queuing outside the Pit the member of staff who was checking the tickets asked if I would like an aisle seat and she let me in before the rest of the audience to choose my seating. That was really nice and appreciated as she anticipated and suggested rather than me having to ask. After the show I went to the box office to ask to speak to a manager about the accessible toilet. I only had to wait a couple of minutes before Liz arrived. She introduced herself and we went to the accessible toilet together so I could explain what the difficultly was. She understood the issue and agreed to have the baby changing table moved the same day. This was based on the festival events being for an adult audience and so there had been few people who had brought babies with them, plus there was another changing baby facility, so all visitors were being catered for. Liz then took me along to the second accessible toilet by the bar, which I described above. I want to say a big thank you to Liz. I felt our disabled community was being heard and she was very proactive in addressing the issue so promptly.
Anything else you wish to tell us?
The Vaults is a fascinating venue. It's quirky and a little bit different. They hold a lot of different events throughout the year. At first glance it might not appear very accessible, but I personally found it an easy venue to navigate. I visited for a matinee performance and the venue was quite busy. I anticipate in the evening when all the shows are it can get very busy. Please note, I didn't explore every space at the Vaults so please check if you are planning to visit, as I think there maybe one or two spaces which are only accessible by stairs, although I didn't see any when I visited.