Thursday 30 March 2023


 As a child, growing up in Lincolnshire, far from any theatre other than Lincoln Theatre where we used to go to the Pantomime every year, theatre productions were very excitig to me.   I used to often think about the future - would I ever go to a 'proper' theatre in a big city like London - and how very exciting it would be.  (now I am back in The Dales - a similar area, far from theatre life).

But luckily, moving when my son was six to Lichfield did put me within reach of the theatres in Birmingham - only fifteen miles away and with a good train service.

 The first theatre experience was to go and see a Janacek opera. The Cunning Little Vixen'.  I went with a group of friends and my husband too of course - we were all musicians and the opera was a wonderful experience.   But the thing i remember most and the thing we would talk about afterwards whenever we thought of it, was an incident in the Second Act, when the man in front of my husband suddenly jumped up and ran out of a nearby door.   My husband, being the man he was, jumped up and followed him out into the empty lobby, only to find him collapsed on the floor saying 'I think I am having a heart attack.'  My husband ran and got assistance and phoned for an ambulance and waited by the side of the man, holding his hand and trying to keep him as calm as he could until the ambulance arrived.   I didn't follow but of course until M returned I really couldn't concentrate at all as to what was happening   (together the two of us did go back to see the opera again several years later).

I was reminded of the experience this morning by a short piece in The Times about how theatre audiences behave badly these days.   Clive Davis, the writer of the piece, talks of how while watching 'A Street Car Names Desire', just at Blanche's 'emotional meltdown' a nearby man opened a bag of sweets and started munching them.   And how he once sat next to somebody who kept checking his mobile phone throughout the performance,   He also remembered that he was once at the theatre when a women in the audience started heckling the actors so much that the performance had to be paused.

I thought back to once going to Stratford to see 'Coriolanus' and one of the two friends I went with kept shouting 'Pardon?' when he couldn't hear what the actors were saying.  (I could have gone down a mousehole and hardly remember the play at all).

I once went alone to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London to see and hear Andras Schiff play Bach's Goldberg Variations - the performance was absolutely wonderful but ruined for me by a woman about three rows in front who throughout moved her whole body in time to the music.   It was extremely annoying and when the performance ended the man actually sitting behind her gave her a right rollicking saying she had ruined his evening.

Clive Davis says how badly theatre audiences behave these days.   It is a long time since I went to the theatre but I did wonder if there is a correlation between how one dresses and how one behaves in the theatre,   In my theatre going days we 'dressed up' to go to the theatre and treated it as an 'occasion'; nowadays people seem to wander in wearing 'any old thing' - I wonder if this affects how they choose to behave.   Have packets of crisps and plastic buckets of pop corn become the norm?

I think I once read how Laurence Olivier stopped in the middle of the performance and addressed somebody in the audience about his behaviour.

What do you think if you are a theatre-goer?



Unknown said...

I love the theater and the last time I went was to see Mama Mia the musical with my daughter (having seen the film with her). The behaviour of the audience was on the whole very good. It was a very engaging production and was really well performed by the actors and actresses, and on the most part women. I wonder if this helped with the
behaviour? The only problem I had was at the end when the oncore was being performed, the people in front of me were standing but due to a medical problem I was unable to stand so couldn't see a thing. I was still able to enjoy the singing.


Marjorie said...

How clever of your husband to follow the man out and get him help. I love Opera and live nowhere accessible to theatre so can't go. You would think with the high cost of the tickets, the audience would be riveted to the stage to get their money's worth.

Yellow Shoes said...

My heart sinks when I follow a group into the cinema and they’re clutching buckets of popcorn. I’m with Mark Kermode who thinks cinema viewing should be done in total silence - even the ads!
My experience in the theatre has been very good luckily.

gz said...

We expect respect and silent listening now...but just heark back to the audience in Shakespeare's day!

rallentanda said...

I am so envious of you seeing Andras Schiff.He is truly brilliant. And as for the woman behaving like that ruining the performance....I think she should have received a hefty fine and banned from returning to the venue

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat, I mostly read (in silence) here and enjoy your writing and reminisces very much. Today’s post reminded my of a theater experience many years (35?) ago when visiting Philadelphia. My husband and I were lucky to be gifted tickets to see Katherine Hepburn in a small theater. (I’ve forgotten the play). At some point, she stepped out of character and to the front of the stage and looked down at someone in the first few rows who was talking. She used her stage voice and didn’t mince words! Then walked back to her place and after a few minutes was able to get back into character and continue. Wonderful!
It’s been years since I’ve experienced live (professional) theater as I live in a rural area of western Massachusetts (population 2,000) but we do have a theater (with a screen for movies) in our town hall and I have on occasion been to the opera via “Live at the MET” simulcast from NYC.

Nelliegrace said...

It was such a foggy afternoon the auditorium was only about a quarter full.
We had seats near the front.
The cast was reduced by influenza. The understudy of the understudy playing Queen Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew had to have the script and struggled with her cough.
And yet when she tried to tempt Diggory to take the apple, to cure his Mother, saying softly, “Take it, Take it,” our seven year old was so caught up by the play that she stood up and screamed, “”Don’t do it, DON’T DO IT!” and the cast were trying desperately not to laugh for several minutes, before they could carry on.
The power of live theatre.

Susan said...

I've only had good experiences at the theater in London, Boston, MA and NYC. Maybe I have just been lucky. I do notice, today, standards for good behavior and manners do not seem to carry the same weight that they once did. I admit, I do like a bit of decorum

Debby said...

The last play I saw was in London, and it was The Play That Goes Wrong. It was hilarious and the entire audience was roaring with laughter. The 'director' played to the audience. Iguess that I have never been to a serious performance before.

John Going Gently said...

Well you know me, I hate any bad behaviour in the theatre or cinema
And we’ll say so vociferously

Heather said...

I haven't been to the theatre for many years but some time ago my husband and I went to the Theatre Royal in Bath fairly frequently. I am glad to say the audiences behaved themselves, but it was quite a few years ago.
It is appalling that theatre goers should be so rude and selfish, ruining a play or opera for the cast and other members of the audience. These days I would quite likely point this out to them.

Anonymous said...

Husband trained as a professional actor, both at University, and the Centre for the Performing Arts. Eventually the poverty of this experience and the uncertainty of the industry forced him into teaching.
Told that her father was to be the heroic kookaburra in a childrens' theatre production,during this time, I took along our daughter, then aged 2 or 3.
When the costumed kookaburra completed the last of many heroic deeds, my daughter quickly stood up on my lap and excitedly shouted VERY loudly "Good BOY Dad!!!".
Theatre has been very much part of our lives, and I've seen the bad behavior such as you've mentioned, and young ones having to be educated about not climbing over rows of seats to get to talk to friends pre-performance, or resting their long legs on the top of the seats while talking.
Movie-wise, I have been cross and disappointed at times.
I had not seen a friend since her two girls were toddlers and they'd moved interstate.
The girls, now teenagers, were ready for a fun time at a movie catch-up. The family set up a picnic on the chair between us, of popcorn, crisps, chocolate, drinks, and icecream and happily rustled, slurped and crunched their way through the whole movie.
Guess they had a great time, but it was a big distraction for me and the people close by, and it surprised me about them. Nothing discreet about the food attack! - Pam.

John Going Gently said...

Pam , loved this btw

Tom Stephenson said...

I don't even go to the cinema these days because I can't stand being around other people whilst watching a performance.

Cro Magnon said...

With a mother as an actress, I was naturally brought-up going to the theatre. However, my favourite was always the annual Panto, in which my mother never appeared!

Rachel Phillips said...

I think Clive Davis is making too sweeping a statement, typical of newspaper feature writers. 99% of audiences are appreciative, in awe, loving it, good people and quiet.

Derek Faulkner said...

In my younger days, going to the theatre was seen as something that only "posh" people did and could afford to do, especially considering that they had proper clothes to wear there as well. Reading through the comments, a degree of snobbiness still comes out about who should be going and how they should act. GZ made a valid point by referring us back to Shakespeare's time when audiences could be quite raucous with their enjoyment.

Librarian said...

Going to the theatre is not an everyday thing for me, but a special occasion, and I dress accordingly - also out of respect for the artists (and many more people you will never see on stage but who have made the whole thing happen). I know the actors do not actually see the audience much, let alone look at their clothes, but I still consider it a sign of respect.
When someone shows annoying behaviour, the person could be quietly addressed.
I have been to performances where folks have been whispering to each other all the time - near enough for it to be distracting, but not near enough for me to be able to address them.
If I want to have a chat with a friend, the theatre is not my choice of place.

As for the "nowadays" bit - what you say about Sir Laurence Olivier shows that inappropriate behaviour at the theatre is not a new invention! Sir Laurence Olivier has been gone a long time, hasn't he...

The Weaver of Grass said...

A couple of lovely stories (Nelliegrace and anon) about young children shouting out to the actors - they really made me smile as both were so very heartwarming.

Thanks everyone for your opinions.

Mary said...

We have been constant theatre goers for almost 60 years - everything from Broadway (NYC) shows to our local amateur group with both a main stage auditorium and a small teaching theatre-in-the-round........and every type of theatre production in between. I always 'dress up' because I enjoy that part as well as the show - plus I don't have to walk too far from the car to the venue in high heels, haha!!!!!
"Break a leg"

Fifitr said...

Going to the theatre is a treat for me but, as with all situations, I only dress up if I feel like it and don't think that just because someone wears a nice dress or a suit they will behave better or worse; I have seen bad behaviour from people of every age and stripe, but really very little over the years and I cannot say I feel it's gotten worse. In the early days of mobiles I did send a couple of people out of the cinema for answering calls in the middle of a film but never in the theatre. I suspect the amount of disruption may relate to how compelling the audience is finding the proceedings. At a recent production of My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican the packed auditorium of mostly young people was absolutely silent, except for a few gasps of surprise, throughout.