“Are you not entertained?”

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Almost two years ago I wrote a piece on theatre etiquette, but since then I’m convinced a low bar has got ever lower. And an experience on Tuesday night has motivated me to have a bit of a rant, though hopefully a constructive one.

Let’s start with the incident itself. I sat down at my favourite show (you should all know by now that this is Sunny Afternoon) after not being there for just over a week. This is a rare occurrence for me, so my absence had upped the anticipation further – and when I realised the people sat next to me were friends of one of the cast I felt quite pleased, as surely they’d be excited to see him in action and be glued to the show? How wrong could I be. Apparently the best times to be noisily rustling a food wrapper was during dialogue rather than the loud songs (shockingly, to me, during their friend’s parts), and a phone needed to be checked every five minutes. I’m terrible with confrontations, plus there never seemed to be a non-distracting moment to bring it up, so for the entire first half I sat there getting ever more frustrated & unable to enjoy the show.

The second act opener began & her phone was on full glow, I couldn’t take it anymore so asked her to turn it off – the look of incredulity I received is one of the many reasons I often try to sit through disturbances. However, apart from one incident a little later, it seemed to do the trick. So I was then able to focus a bit more on the show and, because the cast are nothing short of brilliant, I managed to reach the same level of jubilation by the end of the finale. The epilogue to this story comes at the stage door, where she conveniently forgot how often she’d been checking her phone prior to my interjection and loudly complained to her friend about me making what I considered to be a reasonable request. Needless to say, that topped off what had been an incredibly testing night, and I left the theatre feeling angry, upset & in a bit of bewildered shock.

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Tom Whitelock, Danny Horn, Damien Walsh and Oliver Hoare in Sunny Afternoon
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

This is by no means my worst experience either at this show or elsewhere (Friday 11 September 2015 springs to mind, as does being trapped amongst a rowdy group of TOWIE bods ‘supporting’ Ferne McCann at Gatsby earlier this year) – a couple of friends of mine have even been threatened with physical violence at In The Heights. Bad timing amplified Tuesday’s annoyance; Sunny is closing so I’m already upset about that, plus I obviously want to make the most of it while it’s there. These moments stick in the mind more readily than the good, well-behaved audiences you’re a part of, and do occasionally (to my dismay) make me feel a little less worried about the show closing, as I don’t know how much more of it I can take.

It continues to baffle me that people at the front (especially on the tables at Sunny) think their constant fidgeting, fiddling with their hair, whispering & giggling to each other, or just talking goes unnoticed – if you don’t care about your fellow audience members you should at least care about the actors, right? Particularly when you profess to love a show? Apparently not.

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Blair Robertson and Ferne McCann in Gatsby
Photo credit: Roy Tan

I just cannot get my head around it. If you’re seeing a show for the first time, you should be paying attention as you won’t know what’s happening – and if you’re watching something again it must mean you liked what you heard the first time, so should want to hear it again? Then again, these are probably the same people who talk through TV programmes and then complain that the plot is too complicated…

When I spend money on something, my aim is to get the most for my money – even if it’s a relatively cheap ticket. I’ve worked to earn that cash, I’m not going to just chuck it away! And I know some people are more conscientious than others, but just because you’ve paid for something it doesn’t give you the right to be selfish. Everyone in the theatre is there to see the show – you all have the same goal & purpose. Don’t ruin someone else’s night just because you hadn’t eaten before the show & ‘need’ a loud snack, or can’t go an hour without checking your phone, going to the toilet (medical needs aside – though ideally sit as close to the aisle as possible), talking to your companions, etc. etc.

At the end of the day, it’s basic good manners. Something that parents & schools should instil in you in your formative years – or, actually, just come naturally. Short of laying down draconian rules it’s hard to know what can actually be done to help this. It may just be down to wishing very hard that a more considerate generation of theatregoers comes through… Sadly I don’t have a lot of faith at the moment, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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