Theatre News

Theatre etiquette: an angry audience member

As part of our focus on theatre etiquette, an anonymous theatre-goer gives their view on the horrors of being disrupted while watching a play

Two per cent said they thought it was OK to use their phone during a performance
"Why oh why did you bother paying to see the show if you don’t want to watch it?"
© Mark McQuade/Flickr

According to the Debrett’s – "the trusted source on British social skills", the golden rules for theatregoers include arriving on time, disengaging all mobile phones, not wearing clouds of choking perfume, avoiding big hair, not canoodling, fidgeting, leaning forward, snoring or booing.

All sounds pretty straightforward but frankly trying to peer around someone’s bouffant beehive is the least of my problems when I visit the theatre these days, which is a lot.

At my last visit, a woman two seats away was texting on her phone within ten minutes of the curtain going up. We were three rows from the front so this must have been visible to the actors too. I inhaled deeply, ground my teeth and tried to concentrate on the action. Fifteen minutes later she did it again at which point I leant across and very politely asked her if she could put her phone away as it was quite distracting. Cue a Death Stare amid much eyebrow raising and huffing and puffing, but at least she did as I asked. However when the interval came and she was able to fully vent, she turned on me enraged and spluttered, "What’s your problem?" Actually there was another word in that sentence but for modesty reasons I have cut it. My response to her and every other theatre oik I have ever encountered is this:

My problem is that I have paid a lot of money to watch this show. Your behaviour is ruining my enjoyment of it. Why oh why did you bother paying to see the show if you don’t want to watch it and finally, if you are not enjoying the show then naff off and STOP SPOILING IT FOR EVERYONE ELSE!!!

It’s the latter bit that irks me the most. One argument that I hear in defence of bad behaviour in the theatre is that if the show is not engaging with the audiences sufficiently to distract them from their smartphones and tablets, then people can’t be blamed for being distracted.

I totally disagree. I have been bored to the point of comatose on numerous occasions at the theatre. I’ve mentally written my Christmas list, constructed work emails and redecorated the spare room whilst all the time counting down the seconds to the interval so that I can leg it out the door in the manner of Usain Bolt and continue my evening doing something else.

What I don’t do is sit there, whip my laptop out, actually construct work emails and generally annoy everyone else with tapping, pinging and whooshing, not to mention the glare from my screen. In my humble opinion, it’s selfish, thoughtless, rude and did I mention selfish? Other people may well be enjoying a performance that I think is dire so who am I to ruin it for them?

If I was in a restaurant and not enjoying my food, would I have the right to get up, walk over to your table, interrupt your meal and start spoiling your evening because mine wasn’t going too well? I think the short answer to that is "no" so why is it acceptable in the theatre?

No man is an island said John Donne. We are all connected to our surrounding and/or others. It would be nice if some people took that on board a little more and respected the fact that life doesn’t just revolve around them.

WhatsOnStage will be featuring a series of interviews and blogs with people involved in the theatre industry about their opinions on our survey and theatre etiquette. Keep up to date with the conversation by following @whatsonstage and #theatreetiquette and visiting this link.