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Guest Blog: The theatre of bad behaviour

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Unruly behaviour in the theatre has become the norm rather than the exception. It is always a pleasant surprise when I see a show from beginning to end without being irritated by another audience member.  Why has the ‘theatre of bad behaviour’ burgeoned so much?

Tech lovers & tourists

You would think that those with hectic lifestyles would appreciate some down-time for the duration of a performance but for many people the temptation to sneak peeks at their smart-phone is simply too great. Indeed some people’s lives seem completely centred on their phones and they are unable to last five minutes without checking the app which is tracking Air Force One for them.

Established shows in the West End are a tourist attraction and while many have impeccable manners and behaviour, not all tourists are so well versed in theatre manners. On both occasions that I saw Billy Elliot The Musical some overseas visitors struggling to get their ears round the northern dialect resorted to asking one another what was being said or sung.

Candy Commotion

Theatres themselves must shoulder some responsibility for this too. When I bought a programme at Zach Braff’s All New People at the Duke of York’s a few weeks ago I was told that for an extra pound I could have chocolate as well. If we are to stop confectionery wrappers being unravelled during the most romantic scenes in Phantom of the Opera and while the witches of Wicked are defying subtlety, theatres would do well to stop selling sweeties altogether.

I get the feeling some producers feel the same way – when Sister Act The Musical played at the London Palladium, the voice of Whoopi Goldberg could be heard at the start of the show admonishing the audience to open their sweets and chocolates immediately " or we’re coming to get you.”

Social club

Some people treat going to the theatre simply as a social event. Unable to accept that they are not watching Sky One in their front room these theatre louts talk amongst themselves at full volume. They do not appreciate that others are trying to watch a show.

Other  audience members are unable to control themselves is because they are obsessed with a particular performer and cannot help but squeal in delight at the sight of them.

What is the correct response to these kinds of bad behaviour? I cannot categorise myself as either a ‘shusher’ or one who steams in silence, simply because each circumstance of bad behaviour requires an appropriate response. In most cases, if I physically turn around to face the offending party. This tends to be sufficient: they suddenly realise I have stopped watching the show because I am distracted by their own "performance". I have yet to bark at people in fury to shut up during a performance. The idea that I should create more noise in order to achieve the cessation of noise elsewhere is one I entertain very rarely.

- Chris Omaweng


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