Relaxed @ Panto-trolly

Seemingly supermarket giants are piloting a dementia friendly ‘relaxed’ checkout lane for customers who need to complete their shopping in a less pressured space. 

Alzheimers Scotland hope that the initiative will aid folk who find the normal cut and thrust of supermarket checkout lines difficult.
Pilot schemes are in place in Newcastle and at Ayr and store-staff have been provided with special training to allow sufferers to pay for their shopping at a slower pace. Laudable and welcome of course. But can you imagine the queues?

Retailers could maybe take a leaf out of APA’s book. Theatre has long pioneered the concept of a relaxed immersive experience where instead of the ‘relaxed’ label, the tag ‘calm’ predominates. Aimed at the 700,000 members of the UK population on the autistic spectrum, the calm performance initiative represents a positive cultural shift in attitude towards inclusion of an audience group sometimes marginalised by the performing arts.

Dick McWhittington – Aberdeen Performing Art’s 2016 panto offering - is a prime example of the genre.

For most of the five-week run, loud thunderclaps rocked the theatre and bright-yellow lightning flashed around the stalls. The comedy routines ran amok with well below the belt humour and the songs, gags and hilariously contrived slapstick routines - including a thunderous sea shanty replete with scary electric eel - enhanced the audience experience while a villainous King Rat strutted his evil stuff.

On calm night the songs and gags were mainly in place. The gender-crossing actors were all present - but toned down a bit - and King Rat was almost as villainous as he had been first time round, but much nicer. But, and this is the calm bit, the more risqué double-entendres were absent, the bangs and explosive lighting effects were muted and the audience were completely free to move around the auditorium and hum skip or sing-along just as they pleased. On top of that, the folk in the very front stalls were spared that traditional soaking at the end of act two.

APA Chief Executive Jane Spiers commented on the performance: “It’s fantastic that by making small but important adjustments we can break down barriers, open up the experience of live theatre and make it as welcoming as possible. We already offer audio-described, captioned and signed performances and this is part of our wider commitment to broadening access to our work and our venues.”

And sound engineer Chantal Urquhart explained: “The sound during the performance is built up gradually so as to gently accustom the audience to the sound levels. There are no strobe effects and no loud thunderclaps.”
Now, take that on board . Maybe as well as relaxing the checkout experience, the shopping chains might consider hosting calm shopping evenings replete with widened aisles filled with the sound of fluffily-uplifting lift-music and populated with cotton-wool-clad staff trained in the art of gentle mindfulness.

Oh yes you will! Oh no you won’t!

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire. There is a review of that calm panto @: Dick McWhittington


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