After over thirty years’ experience, the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon – the UK’s first venue dedicated entirely to children’s theatre – has perfected the art of bringing big smiles to little faces.
Taking the family to see one of the original and engaging shows here is an appealingly easy experience. Instead of being forced into long queues in stuffy foyers, before a show children can enjoy ride-on-toys, dressing-up clothes, teddy-bear displays and a book corner. And outside, there is a small playground with a climb-on-cat and a charming Wendy House. In fact, you can pop in to enjoy these play facilities for free, even if you don’t have tickets for a show. Polka performances aim to provide a magical, enjoyable introduction to the world of drama and make-believe for children aged up to 13 – and some simple stories are created for children as young as nine months. Brochures are downloadable from the website, with details of performances, workshops and special events up to eight months ahead. Previous productions have included Run! – a sports day-themed musical – and Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play, where the popular TV series was brought to life with puppets and music. Forthcoming productions include “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, “Flat Stanley” and “Angel”, while “Peter Pan” is running from November 2014 to February 2015.
There is step-free access into the building, and once inside movement is, by and large, easy. You’ll find a roomy accessible toilet at the back of the venue, beyond the coat hooks. There are two show spaces – the Main Theatre on the first floor is accessible via a lift and can accommodate six wheelchairs in the front row; the Adventure Theatre, an intimate space ideal for small children, has level access and spots for two wheelchairs. To guarantee a wheelchair space, you must call in advance or use the Accessible Seating Request Form, if booking online. The Main Theatre is fitted with an induction loop system and there is always one BSL interpreted performance of each of the shows. There are occasional relaxed “autism-friendly” performances (aimed at children who are on the autistic spectrum and those who have sensory sensitivities), where the sound is lowered and the lights are dimmed. Groups of visually impaired visitors can pre-book touch tours of the stage, the set and even the actors. There is always one audio described performance for each of the Main House’s productions. Publicity for shows is available in large print and there is an Audio Described Access Guide available for download from the website.
Food & drink: The Polka Theatre has its own café, serving a good range of child-friendly sandwiches, jacket potatoes and light meals. However, unlike the rest of the venue, it is quite a narrow space, so accessing the tables can be tricky at busy times.