Theatre Loos: The Best and the Ones To Avoid
Continuing our series of Theatre Guides, we're turning to a contentious issue in theatregoing: the loo provision. While some venues have exemplary toilets, for all, others suffer from less than ideal offerings - with women in particular standing in long queues, counting down the minutes until the second half begins.
BroadwayWorld reviewers share their wisdom on theatre loos, in London and beyond - and we offer some sneaky tips to avoid those queues...
When to brave theatre loos
The answer for some overcrowded, old-fashioned West End venues is never! If you can, pop to the loo before leaving home or work, or at the restaurant or bar beforehand.
But if that's not an option, for example with travel arrangements, or if it's a long show, your best bet is right before curtain up and/or after the show - interval is always the busiest time, and you'll miss out on a drink, ice cream and/or crucial mid-show chat.
If you do make a break for it in the interval, try holding out till the very end. That way, lines are likely to have died down (people going earlier, giving up at the sight of the queues, or nervous about getting back to their seats for the second half), and - if you get it just right, around the warning bell - you'll still have plenty of time, but won't have to wait around.
The exemplary venues for toilets
"I've found the new Bridge Theatre's programming hit or miss, but I can't fault the incredible ladies' loos," says Marianka Swain. "Spacious, beautifully lit, with loads of stalls and well-spaced mirrors. Similarly, the refurbished Kiln Theatre's striking red loos are now a pleasure to visit.
"Shakespeare's Globe is also well set up, with a good loo provision and - sensibly - entrance and exit doors to avoid people having to squeeze past a queue. The National Theatre has a good number spread around the building, so if there's a queue on the ground floor, try upstairs. And I like the giant show posters on the doors of Hampstead Theatre's stalls - it adds a note of drama!"
"The Other Palace's toilets are surprisingly good for the size of venue it is," notes Fiona Scott. "They have a good number of cubicles and they even go to the effort of having show branding on the mirrors for certain shows, like Heathers. Chichester Festival Theatre has a great one-way system with the ladies toilets, really nice loos, and show posters to encourage you to see other things."
"I must praise both the Rose in Kingston and the London Coliseum for having very accessible and numerous toilets on every floor," says Aliya Al-Hassan. "I have rarely queued in either venue. Also the Lyric Hammersmith has all-gender, gender-specific, and private accessible toilets."
"Going to the toilet at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow is a joyful experience," shares Natalie O'Donoghue. "While that may sound like an exaggeration...picture a theatre interval where you only have to spend a couple of minutes queuing - if you have to queue at all.
"In 2014, the Theatre Royal underwent a massive refurbishment, and part of that refurbishment meant a sufficient amount of toilets. Every level of the theatre is accessible via a lift and every floor has 10-15 cubicles in the ladies (and I assume the gents), plus additional accessible toilets. The toilets are clean and there are plenty of sinks as well."
The theatre loos to avoid
"The Arts Theatre is the worst by a mile," believes Gary Naylor. Indeed, many West End venues suffer from a sheer lack of space - and there just isn't room to expand, or there are issues with historically listed buildings.
"Brighton has a few very small loos - one to two cubicles max," reports Scott. "I often advise my plus-ones they shouldn't attempt to go 10 minutes before a show and get very nervous waiting for them if they do go. Thankfully, they're usually just back in time and on press nights we're usually at the end of a row. I hate the idea of ruining someone's night by coming in late. There are loos on most levels, which make things easier if you're willing to go upstairs, but I tend not to risk it."
Glasgow's King's Theatre is a major culprit, reports O'Donoghue. "The toilets at the dress circle level are awful - mostly due to the design, which has to be seen to be believed. The ladies' bathroom is all sharp corners and cubicles placed randomly, which usually means an awkward dance with other patrons to get in or out.
"There are only six cubicles and they can't handle frequent flushing (like say, dozens of people trying to go in a 20-minute interval), and the taps are unreasonably hot. There are additional toilets on the lower levels, but they're not much better. It's a great theatre, so it's a shame it's so ill-equipped."
"Special note must go to the New Wimbledon Theatre," says Al-Hassan. "Their toilets are universally small, but the female loos at the back of the stalls have a step in the doorway, which everyone seems to stumble down, and the three cubicles are truly the tiniest I have ever come across. It is pretty much impossible to turn around if you are wearing a bag or a coat. Going to the loo there is like some sort of contortion exercise. Challenging to say the least!"
Bathrooms for all?
The Barbican experienced a backlash when it introduced gender-neutral loos on its basement level in 2017. However, Louis Train feels that provision was (pardon the expression) "kind of half-assed. The physical spaces haven't been renovated at all - the staff have just put up signs that say 'gender neutral with stalls' and 'gender neutral with stalls and urinals'."
A few others have introduced gender-neutral facilities, including the Royal Court, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, and the Kiln.
"Interestingly, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond converted their loos into gender-neutral ones for their recent production Out Of Water, which focused on themes of gender and sexual identity," notes Al-Hassan. "This is now a permanent change. It will be interesting to see the ongoing reaction to this."
Accessibility is still a major issue, with poor provision at many theatres - and even then, it doesn't work for everyone. Wheelchair user Kerrie Nicholson sums up her frustration, noting that she "can't use the standard accessible toilets - and it really winds me up!".
Alternatives to theatre loos
There's hope for the future, with the Spend A Penny campaign offering grants for theatres to help improve their loo provision. But, in the meantime, theatregoers can get around the problem with a bit of savvy...
"Generally, I prefer to go at work/home/a train station/a restaurant before going to the theatre," concludes Scott. "I try to limit my liquid intake so I don't get caught out and can just enjoy the show. Victoria station's (free) toilets are closed for refurbishment at the moment, but they're a useful alternative facility if you're heading to Wicked, Hamilton or something at The Other Palace."
As well as stations, keep an eye out for nearby cafes, bars or pubs. It can often be quicker to leave the theatre and head for one of those instead - particularly in the West End, where there are lots of food and drink venues nearby. And then you still have time to chat about the show over an all-important ice cream.