More loos in theatres? Fingers (or maybe legs) crossed.
PUBLISHED: 13:38 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:38 20 November 2018
Archant Norfolk 2015
As Joanna Lumley fronts a campaign to provide more ladies' loos at The Old Vic, Lynne Mortimer hopes all theatres will follow suit
As one report put it: “To pee or not to pee?”
We’ve all (all women, that is) been there. The interval in a theatrical production − ignoring the increasing tendency to do away with them as some plays run straight through at 90 minutes − doesn’t offer much choice for women who need to go.
They may have to forgo an ice-cream or a drink in order to queue for the “Ladies”.
There are several theatres in London’s West End that make few concessions to the female of the species. Many are old and built with smaller people in mind. It goes something like this, you queue in a narrow corridor for up to 10 minutes and chat to other women-in-waiting about how there should be more loos. When you reach the door, you have to decide whether to be the door stop or wait for clear floor space. Some facilities plant their hand-driers near the exit so, as you queue, you get blasted with hot air.
You finally reach the cubicle and find it was designed for a size 12... and you’re a size 16. With a sanitary disposal bin on one side and a roll of toilet tissue the size of a tractor tyre on the other, there is little room between for a human being. Once installed, the loo won’t flush because the cistern has not refilled.
The politeness of women means that many will wait until they can flush. Others will exit the cubicle and apologise to the next entrant. What does it all mean? In short, most women go only when they really, really need to go.
Joanna Lumley is fronting the More Loos campaign, which aims to raise £100,000 to double the number of ladies’ loos at the Old Vic theatre, south of the Thames. The 200-year-old venue faces more complaints about its lack of lavatories than any other issue, with just 10 for women to cater for its maximum capacity of 1,067.
Also backing the campaign are Glenda Jackson and Bertie Carvel, who have appeared in a video in which they read out tweets criticising the lack of female loos at the venue.
But while one loo per approximately 50 women (assuming the audience is 50:50 gender-wise) is appalling, the Old Vic is not the only culprit.
I once had Damian Lewis walk past me as I queued for the loo in a London Theatre. What to do? Drop out of the queue to ask him to sign my programme (he wasn’t in the show, he was in the audience) or keep my place in the queue? I’m afraid I had to let Damian Lewis go - I had a need more pressing. How many other opportunities might I have missed while queued for the loos?
One frequent tweeter on the subject reacted: “Lumley raises the curtain on a campaign for more ladies’ loos at the theatre - sadly the problem isn’t just in theatres, but across most UK communities − there aren’t enough public toilets...”
A few years back I was involved with BBC Radio Suffolk in judging The Boggies, awards recognising the best and worst public toilets in the county. Without going into gruesome detail, it was clear that the best loos tend to be newer, accessible and have an attendant − that’s if there are any at all.
As an older woman, I now find I have to factor toilets into any trip out. I always go before I go out. In town, I time mid-morning coffee in order to use the coffee shop facilities at the optimum time. On the train, I never have a drink because I cannot face the prospect of using the on-board lavatory. They are, I understand, much improved since I last availed myself of them c.1988 but I remain wary.
A couple of decades back, while house-hunting, I talked to the sales rep at a new development and she was very proud to tell me that a woman had designed the kitchens in the new homes. Looking back to the days when London theatres were designed, I doubt women were consulted when they made provision for toilets. I like to think that such deprivation could not happen today.
There is one solution that has not been universally welcomed and that is the “gender neutral” toilet. It has been observed that while men have continued exclusive use of urinals, women now have to queue with men for cubicles. You have to concede the point, I think.
Maybe we should be able to pay a premium on our theatre tickets to secure fast-track access to the loo − as you can for popular fairground rides at Disneyland etc. No. Ms Lumley and The Old Vic have the right idea and I would warmly welcome other under-provided theatres following suit. Then, maybe at last, I can have an ice-cream in the interval.