Behaviour in the theatre has always been an interesting and sometimes difficult subject to touch upon, but since my last trip to London, I just know that it is something that I need to talk about. I have been to a lot of shows, but I have never seen behaviour like this before. Call me a theatre snob all you want, but I would happily take that title if it meant that people respected the theatre, the show and most importantly the performers, and knew how to behave when seeing a show.
There is a number of different points about behaviour when it comes to the theatre, some may seem petty but I like to think that they are important. To me, a trip to the theatre shouldn’t be about the snack foods, the drink and the fact that everyone seems to feel the need to share everything about the show on their phones, as the show is going on. It should be about seeing and enjoying the show. Whilst the performers are on the stage, you should be watching them and respecting the performance.
Number One: Moving around. Unless it is essential or an emergency situation in which you are told to move from your seats, surely once you are in your seat, you should stay there. This is something that people appeared to be struggling with when I went to the Her Majesty’s Theatre in London to see The Phantom of the Opera. Within five minutes of the show starting, two people in front of where I was sitting got out of their seats and because they were sat in the middle of the row, everyone else had to move around and get up in order for the two people to leave their seats. Plus, they didn’t seem to come back. I’m not sure if they moved seats, or if something happened that made them move from their seats but I did feel sorry for the performers on stage because I am sure that they could hear and see people moving around in the audience which must have been a distraction to them.
Number Two: Time Keeping. Alright, I know that sometimes you can’t control the fact that something happens that makes you late, but still surely some people just need to get better at time keeping. I know for a fact that I am not the only person who likes to take their seat in the auditorium as the doors open, if not soon after, but there just seems to be a lot of people who leave it to the very last minute. To me, it appears that some people like to spend more time at the bar before a show, making it a quick rush to their seats in time for a show to begin. Of course, then there is the problem of coming in later when most people are already in their seats. When you come in later, the people already seated have no choice but to move around allowing people to find their seats. Now, for me, this is not want I want to be doing in the final few minutes before a show starts. I like to get comfortable, make sure that everything is sorted (i.e. phone away and programme safely in my bag), and feel completely ready to enjoy the show. Of course, this isn’t just an issue at the start of the show. Interval can bring a whole lot more chaos and last minutes rushes back to your seat. You would have thought that by now, people would have worked out that of course there is going to be a long line waiting for the toilets. Sometimes this can’t be helped, but I think that there is still an element of time keeping involved. I always head for the toilets first, getting that out of the way before heading back into the auditorium for an interval ice cream. And if there is a long queue, so what? I wait in it and just don’t have an ice cream that time. I’d rather that then spend all of the second act wishing I had gone to the loo when I had the chance.
An important thing to mention here, I think, is that fact that the apparent lack of time keeping may not always be the fault of those actually seeing the show. For example, and I have to name the Dominion Theatre here, it can come down to organisation. When I went to see the Bodyguard, there were no announcements giving people a time check to how long they had to get to their seats. You can’t rely on people keeping an eye on the time when they are chatting or enjoying a drink at the bar. Also, during the interval, it became clear to be that no one was being told that there was more than one set of ladies toilets for the massive dress circle. Having been to that theatre a number of times, I knew that there was a set at the top of the steep stairs of the circle. And they were empty. So that was my good deed for the day, telling everyone waiting in the massive queue that there was another set of toilets available. Surely, an usher could have seen that line and thought to tell them? Not to mention the fact that before the show and after the interval, the curtains on the doors were constantly being opened to allow latecomers in. If there had been announcements and a little bit organisation, this may not have been needed.
Number Three: The big one. Phones. Come on people surely you know by now that phones go away when you go to the theatre. I used to be a right stickler, insisting that phones go off, but I must admit that I have got into the habit of putting mine onto silent. This is only because I love going to the stage door after the show, and I can never rely on my phone coming back on quick enough to get that much needed selfie with the stars. But I will always turn my phone onto silent and put it in my bag. Admittedly, I always take a picture of the stage before the show starts, as a memento and so that I can put a seat review onto seat plan. Other than that, it goes into my bag. Out of sight and out of mind until after the show. But, sadly, the same can not be said for others. The number of times that I have seen someone put their phone onto silent but then leave it on their laps or on the arm of the chair. Phones nowadays light up when ever there is a notification. When I saw White Christmas, the girl’s phone next to me was constantly lighting up and I found it incredibly distracting and annoying.
Now, of course, it is not just the lighting up and occasional ringtone that are the problems with phones. Why are there always those few people that try to get photographs or film? When I saw Michael Ball and Alfie Boe in concert, the lady in front of me was not only filming but broadcasting the show live onto Facebook! Surely that’s not right. And surely, when you are there you want to be enjoying it for yourself, not watching it through a camera screen as you film illegally. I did feel sorry for the ushers at phantom, standing there during the interval holding signs stating no photographs of the set yet still being asked if someone can take just one please? How ridiculous. And the signs didn’t wish, there was still someone filming during masquerade. When I was at the Bodyguard (a lot of bad behaviour at the Dominion), the man next to me was on his phone for the whole of act one. Out of the corner of my eye, all I could see was the light of his phone. I’m sure someone send something during the interval, as during the second act, he was trying to hide under his elbow. That was just as bad. Not to mention that the same man had a drink in his hand for most of the show, I didn’t see him applause once.
Come on People, time to learn that phones are not for the theatre. Turn them off, put them on silent, put them away.
Number Four: Food and drink. Now, this was in the news when I was last in London. People were beginning to claim that it was time to ban food and drink in the theatre, and whilst I don’t think that a complete ban is needed, some things do need to change.
Drink – I don’t think that they can completely ban drinks, because some shows are three hours or so, and surely you can’t expect people not to get thirsty during that time. I, for one, always take a bottle of squash for example. And most of the time, I have been allowed to take my own drinks in. I have always found that being honest and showing the door people that you have a drink is the best way to go. If you say nothing, and they find a drink in your bag, I think that it is more likely that you won’t be allowed to take it in. After all, drinks to be purchased in the theatre are expensive! On the other hand, I do think that maybe it is time to maybe not sell as much alcohol. It’s a rule in most theatres that bottles can not be taken into the auditorium (unless its the Dominion where they appear to allow this?) so people who do buy bottled drinks have to drink it all during a fifteen minute interval, which can result in some drunk behaviour. I sadly saw this at the Bodyguard, in which the lady in front of me was clearly drunk and dancing around in her seat, singing along badly. Excuse me, I paid to hear Beverley Knight sing, not you. The same lady also seemed to think that it was acceptable to hung her bare feet over the empty seat in front of her. The people on either side of that empty chair did not look impressed to say the least. There also seemed to be some drunk people at the school of rock, which is surprising as it is a family show.
Food – The worst example of food being taken into the theatre I have seen was at the School of Rock. During the interval, the family a few seats along from me started tucking into spring rolls and pop corn chicken. Not only was this quite noisy but it also absolutely stunk. The poor members of the cast that had to walk straight past them must have got a nose full of that horrible smell. Who ever thought that bringing that sort of food in was a good idea?
When it comes to other food in the theatre, I think that some changes could be made. If they have to start a food ban, I don’t think that they should stop the selling of interval ice cream. After all, for me, that is part of the theatre experience. For other foods, such as sweets, maybe its time to stop selling the big bags of sweets. For years people have complained that these bags are noisy, not to mention the amount of bags left on the floor after a show. Maybe its time to start making pick and mix pots instead of bags. That way, there is no noisy plastic wrapping and people still get to enjoy nibbling away during a show.
Alright, that’s my little rant over. Along with a few ideas on how things can be improved. Surely, there are simple ways to make things better for those watching the show, those working in the theatres and those performing on stage. Now if only people would learn that the theatre isn’t a place for phones, noisy smelly foods and drunk behaviour. Then it would all be a lot easier.