Campaigning MSP Mark McDonald has written to the production team behind Wicked to request the hosting of an autism friendly performance of the highly acclaimed West End musical when it visits His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, following the success of other autism friendly performances across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Donside MSP has been supporting a campaign to increase the availability of autism-friendly productions in theatres and cinemas across Scotland and raised the issue in Parliament earlier this year with a Member’s Debate following cross party support for his Parliamentary Motion highlighting the importance of autism friendly relaxed theatre and cinema screenings.
In his letter, Mr McDonald highlighted the success of His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen for taking the innovative step of holding an autism friendly pantomime performance and provided an explanation on the adjustments required.
Relaxed and autism friendly performances are achieved through subtle changes in the theatre environment such as leaving on the house lights at a dimmed setting, eliminating loud bangs and flashing lights whilst allowing viewers to move around during performances and quiet areas.
Autism friendly performances are now becoming much more frequent across the UK and popular shows such as Matilda, Lion King and War Horse, in association with the National Autistic Society, have all staged an autism friendly performance to accommodate those with sensory challenges.
Mr McDonald has joined forces with campaigner Glyn Morris who had no choice but to leave a West End performance of Wicked after complaints from a sound engineer relating to his autistic son, Gregor in 2011.
Following the incident, Mr Morris spearheaded a national campaign and sat on the steering group which chaired by The Ambassador Theatre Group, was set up to introduce autism friendly and relaxed performances to the bigger theatres.
Commenting, Mark McDonald said:
“There have been several success stories with autism friendly performances over the last few years and I believe that the same could be done for Wicked. If the cast and producers are able to adapt their performance to accommodate those with autism then it will enable thousands more to enjoy the musical.
“There is an opportunity for the producers to enable people on the autistic spectrum to see the show along with their friends and families. Individuals on the autistic spectrum should not need to be excluded from an activity many take for granted due to some parts of a performance being unsuitable for people with sensory challenges.
“I really hope that the cast and producers of Wicked will be able to follow the lead of other popular shows and adapt their performances to allow those with autism to enjoy the show as well.”
Glyn Morris, who is now currently a Scottish Ambassador for the National Autistic Society and the Chair of NAS Moray and Nairn said:
“This has always been about changing the environment to suit the individuals’ needs, not the other way around. The rewards have been huge as demand is there with genuine overwhelming feedback from the audience and even cast members saying it’s the best and most satisfying performance they ever been involved with.
“Gregor finds it very hard to travel long distances now and we have to face the strong probability that London, Glasgow or Edinburgh, may never again be an option for us. Autism affects the UK as a whole and has no geographical bias, but this doesn’t just affect Gregor. Many individuals in the vibrant North East part of Scotland face the same problems and are denied major theatre performances because of where they live.
“Wicked has the fantastic opportunity to make this happen and deliver an accessible production to the North East.”
MSP Mark McDonald’s letter to the production team of Wicked can be read below.