Tall in the stalls – the nightmare of being over six foot at the theatre

Heightism needs to be left in 2019

© Joe The Goat Farmer (CC BY 2.0)

"Heightism" – unfair treatment based on height

especially : prejudice or discrimination against short people

I recently watched a video from an old Newsnight programme that aired in 2014. The discussion was a response to John Bercow's suggestion a few years ago that making disparaging comments about someone's height ought to be socially unacceptable. The ex-speaker of the House of Commons went on to equate heightism with racism, homophobia and ableism.

Whilst the comparison was considered to be at best misguided and realistically downright ludicrous, interestingly the debate itself concerned heightism solely against short people. One of the discussion's participants Joe Managano, founder of Support for the Short (a website that has "exposed heightism against short people since 2006"), argues that "tall people enjoy what we refer to as privilege", such as not being the victims of bullying or street crime.

I will leave it up to you to decide how far you want to agree with Joe but if there is one area where tall people do not enjoy such privilege then it is unquestionably in the theatre world. I am 6' 5". This is a height that is eight inches greater than the UK male average and the perfect size to completely infuriate people that end up sat behind me in an audience.

For music concerts and gigs, height is slightly less of an issue but remains problematic – countless times I have moved into a perfectly reasonable pocket of space near the front of a stage, only to be borne backwards to the exit on a wave of blunt comments and complaints. Once a play starts however there is no similar chance to move and I must endure an evening of trying desperately to slouch in my chair (exacerbating already considerable back pain as a result), whilst suffering the ignominy of being heckled and sworn at by people behind me. If you could only imagine the torment this causes.

It is something of a relief to know that I am not alone in my suffering. Last week I listened to actor Stephen Merchant's Desert Island Discs and learned how he too struggled with his height during younger years. His recollection of being self-conscious truly struck a chord. There are only so many times that merely sitting down can be greeted by "Oh for f*** sake" before it starts to take a considerable psychological toll.

What do I hope to gain from this blog? Above all, education. If I can prevent even one person from making a heightist comment then these words have done their job. The next time a tall person sits in front of you at the theatre, perhaps remember that they have just as much of a right to be there as you do – and although their ears are a little further away than the average person, do not make the mistake of thinking they are insulated from hushed barbs.

Please, everyone, let's leave heightism in 2019.