[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/38281?ns=guardian&pageName=Losing+the+plot%3A+when+actors+attack+%7C+Leo+Benedictus%3AArticle%3A1310129&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CWest+End%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Leo+Benedictus&c7=09-Nov-25&c8=1310129&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]Mobile phones, rowdy schoolchildren, flash photography – no wonder actors fly into rages on stage. But is a bit of chit-chat in the stalls really worth the drama?
When actors attack – it doesn't sound like the most terrifying prospect. Somewhere rather low on Channel 5's scheduling list, I should imagine, just above When Florists Wince or When Poets Formally Complain. And yet there are signs this week – in the West End at least – that an irritated actor has become something to be feared.
"He was screaming and shouting, incoherent with rage," said Gerard Earley, 38, after his night out to the Duke of York's theatre on Monday. "He was saying: "You're disrespecting me, you're not respecting the other actors'. I said: 'You must be mistaking me for someone else', and he just lost it completely. Spittle started flying out of his mouth and the ushers were holding him back. I was very scared. He was standing up and leaning over me. I felt threatened when he started screaming and I couldn't make out what he was saying – he was pretty feral at that point."
This, Earley alleges, was the behaviour of Ian Hart (you might remember him from such films as Backbeat and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), who witnesses say had been glowering at the man since the intermission. But while the facts of what happened are still disputed – and it is certainly hard to believe that "You must be mistaking me for someone else" is an exact quote – it does seem that on-stage outbursts have become more common. Perpetrators include such esteemed figures as Patrick Stewart (to a disruptive autograph-hunter, after the show), Ken Stott (rowdy schoolchildren), Kevin Spacey (mobile phone), Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig (together, in character), and Richard Griffiths (twice, apoplectic).
And although narratives of social decay must be treated with suspicion, there are some reasons why this apparent epidemic of rag-misplacement could be happening. Firstly, and most obviously, there is technology. Mobile phones have been going off in even the best-intentioned pockets for more than a decade, and how to deal patiently with them is now a module at Rada. Or should be. But being photographed, or filmed, while trying to concentrate on one's performance – surely that is maddening. And there are some people out there who seem determined to do it.
Talking to one's neighbour, however, or rustling sweets: people always did that, didn't they? We are often told about the famous groundlings that greeted Shakespeare's plays with greater feats of sex and violence than they were missing on stage. Well, that was disgraceful (if normal) then, and it's still disgraceful now, but theatre is slightly different these days. The casting of celebrities (acting experience preferred) is now a fundamental part of the West End's commercial structure, for one thing. Which makes you wonder if all these unsuspecting film and television stars are properly prepared for the rigours of a live audience. Ian Hart, after all, has admitted in the past that he finds them "abhorrent".
And along with the introduction of different performers, the act of theatregoing has become different too. Seeing someone famous in the flesh is now an integral and expected part of the experience, which makes gawking (rather than make-believe) many people's reason to be there. For them, there are already numerous star-shaped windows in the fourth wall, so distracting the performers or audience makes little difference. No aspersions are intended here for Earley, of course, who describes himself as "a regular theatregoer". Though, if he is the same Gerard Earley who lists among his interests on the Central London Humanist Group website "meeting famous people in unlikely places", then he has at least had his wish.
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Guardian: Losing the plot: when actors attack | Leo Benedictus
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