Scotland

Sensory backpacks making Perth's panto more accessible

Panto at Perth Theatre
Image caption Perth Theatre and Concert Hall wants to make pantomime performances more welcoming and inclusive

It is pantomime season across Scotland and audiences are packing venues in towns and cities to get their festive fix of heroes, villains, princesses and dames.

But for some people - both children and adults - a visit to the theatre is far from a fairytale dream.

The experience for those with conditions like autism and dementia can often be daunting.

One Scottish venue has come up with a solution it hopes will help.

Perth Theatre and Concert Hall is offering audience members who need or want them special sensory backpacks to help cope with the bright lights, enthusiastic singing and unexpected sound effects.

Image caption Rachel Boyce says sometimes the noise, lights and smells of a live stage production can be overwhelming

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Boyce, who has autism, says a trip to the theatre can sometimes be "a bit too much".

"It's usually really big bangs or smells or sometimes the smoke that comes out. It's a bit overwhelming," she says.

"Sometimes it's the lights if it's really too bright, or really too dark. It gives me quite a lot of anxiety when it happens."

Her mum Karen explains what going out can be like for someone like Rachel: "I think that a lot of people don't understand some of the behaviours.

"They may think a child is being naughty but it may not be that the child is being naughty, it may be something that they can't see. Like Rachel with her autism, you wouldn't know that things have been so overwhelming for her."

Image caption The backpacks contain a selection of sensory items including ear defenders, cuddly toys, weighted blankets and timers

She says Rachel and other children and adults with conditions like hers "just want to go to something where they can feel relaxed and comfortable, and enjoy it and not have to worry about what their sensory issue is."

The move to attract and accommodate those with autism and similar conditions is not a new one, with more theatres and productions offering "autism-friendly" and "relaxed" performances in a bid to relieve the anxiety people can have about coming along.

At the Perth venue, the sensory backpacks are available to borrow for free ahead of performances of this year's pantomime, Sinbad.

The backpacks contains a wide selection of items including ear defenders, cuddly toys, weighted blankets and timers.

Everything inside is designed to reduce anxiety and staff have also been trained to help.

Lauren Oakes, head of creative learning at venue operator Horsecross Arts, said: "The aim of everything we have here is to take away the stress, take away the pressure. These are all things you can take into our auditorium and have with you the whole time of your visit.

"We work in the theatre so we obviously recognise it can be life-changing - the experience that people can get listening to our classical concerts or coming to a theatre performance.

"It's a really enjoyable opportunity and we just want to open up that opportunity to everybody and say you're welcome in our buildings."

She added: "Hopefully we will develop our audience who might not have wanted to come to Perth Theatre and Concert Hall previously."