The Grand Opera House in Belfast is Northern Ireland’s most recognisable theatres. Open since 1895, it is known for staging musicals, comedies and pantomimes — making it an all round family favourite venue — and with its much anticipated rebuild now complete, the theatre is now back!
But how accessible is it if you’re a family with a disabled person, or if you’re a disabled person wanting to go out for the night with your friends? In this article, I will be reviewing how easy it was getting into and around the Grand Opera House on my recent visit, as well as my opinion on where the theatre falls short, based on the information found out by the wider disability community about the lack of disabled changing places within the theatre. I didn’t get to go all the way around the theatre, however, so another part of this review might come out in a couple of weeks after I go to see another show, when I will have time to go and look at other parts. But this is my review of the Grand Opera House, Belfast’s rebuild, an accessible tourism review!
Getting to the Theatre
The lead up to going to the theatre was exciting but stressful, mainly because of the new guidelines for attending events. Yes; I’m talking about the Covid Vaccine debate here — and it isn’t that I don’t want to get a covid passport — as someone who is physically disabled, I do — but the website to apply for one just isn’t accessible enough for me, because there was no ‘upload photo’ option for a proof of identity. There were various other problems as well as just the one I’ve mentioned — but without getting away from the story, after talking to the Opera House I was told I’d be allowed in if I showed evidence of a negative Covid test taken at least 24 hours beforehand. I was able to get in and see the show in the end.
Moving Around After Covid Checks
After getting in, it was easy to show our tickets, to find the room where the show would be held, and to find our seats. We arrived when people were still coming in, so one of my friends went to get the program for me, while the two others stayed with me in case anything happened. The security staff were nice and helpful, and there was definitely no problem in communication if they needed to discuss something with us or vice versa.
How Accessible is the Grand Opera House, Belfast Overall?
Keeping in mind again that I haven’t been the whole way around the theatre, and I’m only commenting so far on my experiences two weeks ago, I think the majority of my feedback is overwhelmingly positive. It was easy to get in, it was easy finding where the show would take place and our seats, and the security — when we needed them — were brilliant.
But even with that, there is one problem.
The Grand Opera House was given £11 million in government money for its newest rebuild, for which they promised something great. Yet – according to top disability advocates and information friends gave me about the toilets, there was no disabled persons changing places.
If you take my case as an example, I would need a hoist to help get me out of my wheelchair, and a table or bench to lie on. Even if the table was a flip down one, it would be good enough, and although I’m not the biggest fan of overhead hoists, it would be a good enough way forward.
I wouldn’t bother with visiting a disabled persons’ changing places room if I was going to a short performance with no interval like ‘Six’, but in a couple of weeks I’m going to be going to see ‘School of Rock’, which I know will be a longer performance. It would be nice to have the option of going to the toilet during the interval, rather than being forced not to drink beforehand when out for a dinner with friends beforehand.
But despite this, the accessibility isn’t awful, and the Grand Opera House does have information on its website on how they can give you help if you have specific needs. In fairness to them, their attitude to disabled people attending the theatre has always been great, and they deserve a big applause for that.
So with this in mind, I will give the Grand Opera House’s rebuild ****.