War Horse at the National Theatre: a streamlined deaf customer experience

Here at terptree, we are always looking for stories from deaf people about the experiences that show access at its best (and worst!)

The National Theatre came up in a recent conversation with a deaf friend. She used the words “you’ll never believe it” and “can’t wait to tell you about it.” So, of course, I wanted to know more.


Tell me more…


She had booked to see War Horse at the National Theatre and explained that the experience was full of ‘wow’ moments from start to finish!

She told me that most of the time when she attends the theatre, she will study the play to clarify the storyline.  This always makes it easier to follow and enjoy the day. But her experience meant that she needn’t have done that on this occasion.

She got in touch with the access office two weeks before to check that the seats were the most appropriate place for their needs. This was confirmed during the conversation, and she was excited and looking forward to the performance.

On the way to the Theatre, she was always concerned about the stigma of being deaf.  It was down to previous experiences where staff have made a big deal about her deafness.   In this experience, she did not have to prompt the theatre staff on what she usually has to do.


A deaf customer-centric approach


During this performance, the National Theatre showcased a new way of providing better access for their deaf audience.  Glasses that, when worn, show the subtitles in the wearer’s field of vision.

Here is what happened:

  • Both my friend’s and her husband’s names were checked off the list on arrival
  • They were asked if they would like a synopsis of the play
  • They were not asked whether they were deaf
  • Their needs were simply catered for immediately without even having to ask
  • She noticed that also happened for a number of other audience members

All of this happened without her having to say a word!


And it went one step further


Once they’d settled into their seats, another member of staff came and checked how they were getting on with the glasses.

This attention to detail even continued when they ordered food.  A thoughtful and visual experience.  Staff pointed at food and drinks, maintaining eye contact and making it very easy to understand and be understood.


Accessible customer journey


Accessibility has been considered across the entire customer journey.  A clear set of conscious decisions came from fully understanding how deaf people access the theatre.  Careful consideration of what was needed before arriving, on arrival, on the day and all the added extras.

What is clear is that all the small touches that have been implemented here mean a deaf theatre-goer is the same as any other. This is a perfect example of what happens when access is built in from the start and across the whole customer journey.



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