Injuries raise concerns over theatre seat safety

The seating at the smaller of the two spaces within the HEART facility will be reviewed following reports of incidents last week.
The seating at the smaller of the two spaces within the HEART facility will be reviewed following reports of incidents last week.

The opening of a section of the newly-constructed Margaret River HEART cultural complex has led to a call for a review of the facility over safety concerns.

Several reports of falls and subsequent injuries to patrons and volunteers at the venue - which is the smaller of the two spaces planned within the HEART complex - has drawn concern over the suitability of the retractable raked seating system.

Issues with safety lighting forced the venue to open to a reduced capacity, hosting cinema screenings in a cabaret (table and chairs) style seating format while correct lighting was installed.

Last week the Margaret River SHS production of Jasper Jones opened to packed audiences, with patrons finding the seating system tricky to navigate.

"Traditional theatre seats have the bottom part - the seat section - flip up, so people are familiar with needing to pull that seat down to sit," said one ticketholder, who requested to remain anonymous.

"For some reason, the seats here operate the other way, meaning the backs of the chairs flip forward.

"Anyone who has ever inched along a row to find their seat, especially if there are already other people in the row, knows that you instinctively reach out to the row next to you to steady yourself on the back of the chairs.

"Because these fall down immediately, you find yourself nearly tumbling into the rows below."

Friday night's performance was delayed by almost 30 minutes following a fall by a theatre patron who is understood to have suffered an injury to her hip.

An Arts Margaret River spokesperson said trained staff were in attendance to help administer first aid on Friday, and that the relevant incident reports were provided to the Augusta Margaret River Shire immediately after they occurred.

The Shire confirmed they had received two incident reports on Monday, from the contracted facility manager.

Acting chief executive officer Dale Putland said the Shire was aware of the issues and would review feedback from the first weeks since opening the venue.

"The venue and all of its fittings meets all relevant national and state safety standards required for its Certificate of Occupancy," Dr Putland said.

"The safety and comfort of patrons to the new HEART venue is of the highest priority.

"The Shire is currently seeking feedback about the initial usage of the venue to ensure it offers form, function and enjoyment for both the facility managers and members of the public."

Two members of the audience approached the Mail after falling at the venue, with one patron asserting that she did not feel safe attending another event at the venue unless she was able to sit in the front row.

"I was there on Wednesday night for an amazing performance, but I also fell when I reached to support myself on the seat back and it just folded," she wrote.

"Several others have spoken to me since and they also tripped or felt very unsafe."

A number of events and productions have been booked at the venue over the upcoming weeks, including the Melbourne International Comedy Roadshow, a Readers and Writers Festival fundraiser with Ben Elton, the South West Shorts theatre event and weekly cinema screenings.