Thursday, 1 October 2015

Brush Up Your Shakespeare - audiences and their theatre etiquette

“I spent most of my summer down at the beach,” said Sandy in Grease, but as for me? I went to the theatre.

I have ticked some theatrical greats off my ‘people that I love and want to see live’ bucket list. Antony Sher, Harriet Walter and Imelda Staunton have all stunned me, moved me to tears and demonstrated the utter brilliance of their craft.  It’s an incredible feeling to witness the power of human communication looking so effortless and yet being aware of the toil and skill involved. Money well spent, I say, and for a fraction of the cost for a ticket to Elf at The Dominion!

But something else struck me whilst I soaked up some summer culture – audiences have changed.

There doesn’t seem to be that same reverence or hushed respect from behind the fourth wall. The proscenium arch seems to have been mistaken for a TV screen with the audiences in their own living room. I’m going to sound like an old crone “it wasn’t like this in my day” but I have a lot of respect for old crones and ‘my day’ was only a few years ago so here comes the rant!

v  When the lights go down – Sssshhhh! “Who’s that then?” “What she say?” are things you may hear whispered in an auditorium, even my Grandpa decided to exclaim loudly that “they wouldn’t have had kettles like that!” during a performance of a World War 1 play but when it comes to general chit chat .....Ssssssshhh. This summer I was surrounded by theatre-goers discussing texts on their phones (there’s a whole other section for that gripe) discussing their snacks and just having general chats whilst the play was going on. In my book it is a travesty to chat while Imelda Staunton is singing the balls off of ‘Rose’s Turn’ – if your focus is not entirely on her then you shouldn’t be allowed in a theatre, any theatre - ever.
Imelda - there are no words 

v  It’s not a panto – Pantomime is brilliant; a fantastic way to introduce children to the theatre, they can shout, scream and dance as much as they like. I even love the drunken hen do dancing in the aisles that a Mamma Mia megamix creates, but it has a place. The people next to me at a performance of ‘Oliver’ at The Watermill, after shouting up to their friends in the balcony, decided to help the characters with their lines. I’m pretty sure that this uber-talented cast (nearly all playing 3 or more instruments live) had rehearsed enough to know the script and even though it’s a very famous story, I do not need to hear you warble “Moooooooore” before Bumble does and I certainly don’t need you to remind him that the law is “AN ASS!!” Well done for seeing the film but if you want to be in the play – get an agent and audition! (ps. You should add Cameron Blakely onto your own bucket lists – he was Fagin in this production and is a truly enigmatic and magnetic actor.)
Cameron Blakely is awesome. In everything!
v  Phones – We can see you! You face is illuminated by a blue glare and it pisses actors off. Benedict was onto you this summer with his eloquent stage door plea.  You are not in Avatar – stop giving yourself a blue face, the world won’t stop if you turn off your phone for a bit. There might even be something more stimulating happening on the stage.....

v  An ice-cream in the interval – that’s all!
I love the very English tradition of eating a local, over-priced ice cream with a tiny shovel whilst staunchly minding our seats from potential chancers. A treat in-between acts whilst the actors have a fag /wig change so we can chill out and read their biogs in the programme. But since when is it ok to have a meal.....during the show? It’s been this way in the cinema for a while now; smelly nachos and phallic fake meat in a bun to stink out the room. My late Nannie had to endure the munching of popcorn and wafts of nachos whilst watching me in a stadium in Europe. I have even heard an audience member open ‘the noisiest bag of crisps available to man’ as we sat on the barricades watching Eponine die in Les Mis - the lack of awareness was comical. But I resent sitting next to a rustling picnic of homemade sandwiches and fizzing bottles of pop whilst watching a play.

Should I blame Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber? Have they brought the TV watching audience into theatres via reality casting? Do we blame social media for forcing us to tweet our opinions before the finale? Or is our fault for no longer wearing an evening gown for a night in the West End and instead trailing in with our shopping bags and collapsing into our £70 seat like it’s an armchair?

But wait, old crone. Shouldn’t I move with the times? The Donmar’s 2014 play, Privacy, asked audiences to actually use their phones as part of the production. Selfies were used to prove a point about our digital footprints – we are in the digital age after all why shouldn’t art tackle it? We are asked to tweet our reactions to help with the marketing of a show, heck, most productions don’t even use the proscenium arch anymore. We explore promenade theatre, we go to site-specific productions where we may be in a shop, a field or a restaurant; we are taking exciting theatrical risks.

And shouldn’t I just be pleased that people are leaving their lounges and going to the theatre? Anybody and everybody should keep attending and gaining from all the marvellous things that a live performance offers. I don’t want us to go back to an elitist age where people think that the theatre’s too posh for them but maybe we do need to brush up on our theatre etiquette, if only to show our respect to the actors beyond the footlights who are slogging their guts out.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree with all you say, surely if someone has put in the hours of rehearsal, line learning the least the audience can do is to respect the actors, the musicians, the technical staff and all the other aspects of theatre.