To paraphrase Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd: “These are probably the worst seats in London,/ I know why nobody cares to take them/ I ache in them, but good? No!”
Spending most of my evenings in theatre seats, I am already well schooled in the relative merits of the seating offered at different theatres around London, not to mention many regional theatres and on Broadway.
But my recent hip replacement surgery threw it all into (lack of) relief: suddenly I was at the mercy, as we always are, of seating environments we can’t ever control, but having to make them work given my specific medical requirements. For the first six weeks after the surgery, I was under direct instruction to make sure that no seat I sat in was lower than 19 inches (a personal measurement, based on my own leg lengths) from the floor, so that my hip was always maintained at a height that was higher than my knees.
That’s a tall order (in every sense), given the state and condition of much theatre seating, which even in refurbished houses often has a seat bottom that is only a few inches from the floor. Step forward, to claim the prize for lowest seats I know, the Novello and Noel Coward Theatres. I carried an orthopedic bolster cushion around me with for a while to give me an extra few inches, but even that wasn’t enough.
I’ve sometimes sought the additional support of the theatre’s own bolster cushions, sometimes helpfully provided for younger patrons. But, as I discovered to my cost at the Piccadilly Theatre on the opening night of Viva Forever!, I was unable to use it as it threatened to disrupt the view of my colleague behind me.
However, even without the special requirements I’ve recently had, some seats are simply awful. My partner already refuses to join me at Trafalgar Studios 2, given how tightly packed the bench seating is both sideways and in terms of negligible leg room, not to mention the bare plank hardness of the seating itself. Earlier this week, after attending the first night of the Donmar Trafalgar’s last production The Silence of the Sea, I realised that it’s time for me to call quits on going there, too.
Clinging precariously to the end of the back row of the centre stalls, sitting in seat C9, half of my right butt cheek was already enjoying the more comfortable provision of the air as opposed to the hard surface of the bench support. But worse than that, there was also a weirdly distorted view of the stage itself: facing ahead, I was presented only with an uninterrupted view of my colleague Fiona Mountford, herself propped up virtually in standing position, in the back row of the side block. (This turned out to be a position she had to adopt: after I tweeted about my terrible seat, she replied:
@shentonstage At least you could put your feet on the floor, though. D8 offers no such luxuries.
— Fiona Mountford (@FionaLondonarts) January 14, 2013
To actually see the stage, I had to look down the funnel of the stairs in front of me, and gain an approximate view of the stage crowded in by heads on all sides. I think it’s simply easier not to go to the Trafalgar Studios 2 in future, so my New Year’s resolution is to strike it off my list.
Upstairs in Trafalgar 1 it has hardly been hitherto much more comfortable, with its steeply raked banks of seats from which the armrests were previously unhelpfully shorn off to cram a few more spectators in. I’m only hopeful that, with the launch of next month’s Trafalgar Transformed season under the auspices of director Jamie Lloyd, the reconfiguration of the auditorium will also look at the comfort factor, too.
These theatres are, of course, sadly far from alone in providing extreme discomfort as part of the package. At some theatres, it is sometimes a price worth paying – though the Finborough’s tiny benches, onto which they improbably seek to accommodate five in space that’s really only enough for four, are excused when the shows are as great as they often there, whereas it takes a lot more to get me anywhere near the King’s Head, where the seating is equally awful but the shows can be worse than the seating.
What are your least favourite theatres in terms of seating? Post your comments below.