Audiences Behaving Badly

There was a lovely scheme running in Jan/Feb called ‘Get Into London Theatre’ (GILT).  An excellently crafted scheme whereby big West End productions offer heavily discounted tickets to their shows, the likes of which many could not otherwise afford (or justify…).  Audiences get to see things for cheaps, theatres get to boost the post-festive slump in sales – luring people out into the cold and dark, with the promise of shining lights and, let’s face it, a right bargain.

A few big shows had been on my wishlist for some time – The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Woman in Black, Singin’ in the Rain – all big, brash, tourist-magnet productions that I just wanted to indulge in, OK?!  I was pleased with the bargain prices I procured, I was excited about going to big, plush theatres: the red velvet seats, the bright lights, the glamour I remembered from rare trips to the theatre as a child.  TREATS.  It is with much regret (and not a little reticence), that I admit I was mostly disappointed.  It wasn’t so much the dead, alternately pained and vacant, look in the cast members’ eyes (long-running shows losing their lustre?  Another topic in itself.), but the audience.  The insufferable, loud, uncouth, uncontrollable and downright rude, audience.

A man behind me (a real, grown up, man) kicked my chair and scoffed popcorn, proffering comments on the salient points of The Lion King to his giggling girlfriend throughout.  “Mufasa is a badass, he’s totally going to f**k Scar up.”, “I want a beer, this bit’s boring, get me one?”, “What are those giant cows doing?” (It was an elephant).  People persisted in taking flash photography – even after being asked not to, and later, firmly reprimanded by Front of House staff.  A group of shrill American students full-on screamed their way through Woman in Black, treating me to a full analysis of why they had been frightened, for a full 30 seconds following each jumpy moment (I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there are a lot of those).  Atmosphere, ruined.

Is this behaviour new, or did I just not notice it before? Am I becoming curmudgeonly?  Old before my time, a grumpy theatregoer?  I thought there was a recognised code of behaviour for theatre – not a rigid system of snobbish rules and classist restrictions – but a basic understanding that when the people on the stage are talking, those observing in the dark, are not.  Please do react to what’s happening – gasp in amazement, scream if you have to – but don’t indulge in conversation until the interval, or after the show.  That’s what an interval is for*.

Saying, that, Singin’ in the Rain was pure, unadulterated joy – see it if you can.

*And the ice-cream.

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