Howdy fellow members of the human race!
Hope you all had good Christmases and that you haven’t broken your New Year’s Resolutions already.
Those of you that have read other blog posts will know that I run the Twitter fan page for Matt Nalton (@NaltonFans), a West End actor who left ‘Jersey Boys’ in March. It was announced in September that he would be joining the cast of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ in November and I was able to see him in it a couple of weeks ago on New Year’s Eve. It is one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. The entire ensemble was amazing and Cassidy Janson (Carole King) was so powerful and just absolutely incredible; I found myself crying at points where I really didn’t think I was going to (I had researched the show before I went so knew the entire story before I went in and didn’t think I was going to enjoy it very much but then I actually saw it).
Those of you that follow me on Twitter will know that I am also currently attempting to run a petition/campaign thing to make theatre more friendly for people on the Autism Spectrum or people with sensory disorders etc etc. If you haven’t already signed the petition, here it is but if you need more persuasion or want to hear what my voice sounds like, here is a link to a podcast in which I talk about the petition and my own experiences with Autism.
Therefore, I thought that I would combine these two things and create this ‘guide’ to ‘Beautiful’ for people with Autism or those planning a theatre trip with or for someone with it so they can decide whether seeing the show is a good idea for them when considering their sensory difficulties as they differ from person to person.
I would just like to point out that this is a work in progress. I have only seen the show once so have certainly missed A LOT. Consequently, I would like anyone who has seen the show and can add to this guide to email me at email@example.com with their additions as it would be a massive help.
Here we go! I’ve decided to split it into sections for ease of use. There will probably be spoilers in this.
THE THEATRE ITSELF
‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is performed at the Aldwych Theatre which is on, as the name suggests, the Aldwych which is just off the Strand. It is near the Duchess Theatre which is where ‘The Play Goes Wrong is’ and is right next to the Novello Theatre where ‘Mamma Mia’ is showing. It’s fairly central but it’s no where near as busy around it as the theatres on Shaftesbury Theatre.
The closest tube stations are Covent Garden, Holborn and Charing Cross but you can walk to it. From London Liverpool Street, it takes about an hour, depending on your pace. You could also get a taxi from London Liverpool Street which, at 10:30pm, cost us about £7. There are also various bus routes and car parks that you could use.
There are security checks at this theatre which are much better than other theatres that I’ve been to. There were full body scans using hand scanners and they check bags and things. This is different to other theatres in that in the past, the people on the door have checked one compartment of my 4 compartment bag and then let me straight in.
This theatre has three levels; stalls, royal circle and upper circle and there are bars and toilets on each level although, as per usual, queues for toilets can be pretty long prior to the show but they are at their longest during the interval.
This theatre does offer access tickets. I would recommend this if you are disabled, no matter what your disability is because it alerts the ushers to where you are sitting. Therefore, if you do start struggling during the performance, they are aware of why you are doing what you are doing and will also have had a sort of pre-warning. Also, this is the first theatre that I have been to where an usher has come up to me before the show to check that everything was OK and to tell us about the access services available (e.g. toilets etc). This was deeply reassuring to me because I knew that if I did have a meltdown mid-performance then there would be someone that could help me. You can book these tickets over the phone and it must be said that the box office staff are also deeply helpful. For example, when my Dad booked, he asked if Matt Nalton was going to be performing on the day that I was going and the person at the box office did find out for us. Basically, the Aldwych Theatre staff are awesome.
As I previously mentioned, there are bars on each level where you could go and get a drink before the show. There are also various merch stands where you can buy CDs, programmes, T-shirts etc. The doors open half an hour before the performance starts. When I was there, we got there a little over half an hour before the show started and the foyer was mental. We went into the theatre itself as soon as possible because standing in the foyer was not pleasant.
WHERE TO SIT
The best place to look for opinions of seats is SeatPlan. However, I would say that if one of your sensory difficulties is that you can’t filter out small movements in the corner of your eye, do not sit towards the front of the stalls. As you would expect, there is a fair amount of movement in the wings and if you sit on the side of the rows at the front of the stalls then you can see quite a lot which may be a bit distracting. Plus, there are bits of costume such as watches which can reflect light in your general direction which, obviously, nothing can be done about apart from sitting further back.
THE SHOW ITSELF
Firstly, the show is awesome, the cast is awesome, the music is awesome. Everything about this show is amazing so if you are worried about quality then I would not worry about it with this show.
The show starts relatively suddenly. There is an announcement to turn your phone off (Which applies to everyone and it’s really not good if you don’t) and then it’s straight into the overture which starts quite loudly although not ear-splittingly so. I was front row so right in front of the pit and even then, it was far from making me deaf.
Sound levels in songs and in dialogue are pretty constant. If you are overwhelmed by too much happening at once visually or sound-wise then the ‘1650 Broadway Medley’ may be an issue. I would recommend that you listen to it first and bear in mind that each song is sung by different people (The stage looks like the picture below).
There is some shouting every so often in arguments as Gerry Goffin, one of the characters, was diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder in real life so his mood suddenly flips sometimes. There is a particular moment in act 2 when Gerry (One of the characters) has a complete breakdown so there is shouting etc as well as quite loud music although this is only short.
Lighting is also not much of an issue. A natural wash is used pretty much throughout with very few sudden changes, apart from it getting darker sometimes One of very few changes is a grid of lights used in ‘On Broadway’, the colours and positions of lights on the grid vary at points in the song but don’t really flash and they are very small changes that I don’t think you’d notice unless you were looking at it. You can see the grid in the picture below.
The only properly bright lights are used in the penultimate song, ‘Beautiful’, also THE BEST SONG in the entire show. Behind Carole King and the piano is a 5 x 8 grid of lights which, combined with a spotlight, slowly increase in brightness towards the end of the song and then it quickly changes to black before the final song.
Those are all the notes that I took from memory after the show. Therefore, it is very obviously incomplete. I would suggest looking at other production shots to have a look at other scenes or maybe try listening to the soundtrack (It’s REALLY good, by the way). And as I said earlier, if you can add to this, email me using firstname.lastname@example.org with the information. This will be updated.
Hope this is useful and that it hasn’t bored you to sleep! Also, if you could sign my petition as well then that would be great.