With Bianca Jagger getting into a fight over flash photography this week, our theatre editor is taking a look at audience etiquette, from shagging to snacking…
I am about as likely to have sex in a theatre as I am to wear a pair of rubber knickers. I am also incapable of flash photography, as my camera has two settings: daytime and the rather jazzy-sounding “shutter tone two”.
However, I would rather pour hot sand up my nose than watch a five-hour Philip Glass opera. And as for sitting through the musical Chicago – I’d rather chew tinfoil.
So, while I can tut along with the rest of the internet at Bianca Jagger for allegedly taking photos throughout Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, and I can write my hands over poor Michelle Williams getting distracted by some front row humping during her 2011 run in Chicago, I cannot completely claim the moral high ground when it comes to theatre etiquette.
At the press night for Adventures in Motion Pictures’ Cinderella in 2010, I was so overwhelmed with hunger that I was left with just two choices: eat a salad or eat the armrest. So I did the decent thing, pulled my lunchbox out of my bag, opened up a mother-hecking garlic tsunami and munched my way through a rather fragrant packed supper. Only to turn to my right, as the lights went up, and discover that I was sitting right next to Matthew Bourne. On behalf of marinated olive-munchers everywhere, I apologise, Mr Bourne.
But I would argue that eating is much better than sleeping. As James McAvoy’s stall-side spat with the dozing critic Paul Taylor shows, snoring through someone’s performance is the lowest form of crit. I’m no performer, but I think I’d rather stare out across a sea of humping, eating, laughing and slurping than realise that half of my audience had slipped into the sea of nod.
Let’s face it, the performing arts are just as much about the audience as they are about the performers. Without an audience, a play is just a rehearsal. Furthermore, those performers are not made of tissue. Anyone who’s ever been to the Edinburgh Fringe, busked, done comedy in a rowdy pub or had to Febreze their costume for the 14th time in a month, while trying to have a strip wash in a sink behind the broom cupboard of a theatre can attest; acting is a tough business. And actors, therefore, are tough nuts.
While it is undeniably rude to text throughout a play, and it’s probably better not to munch through a concert, I don’t want to entirely strip performance of real life. Those on stage aren’t so fragile that they cannot handle the odd cough, or kiss or opening of a sweet wrapper.
Performance is for the people. And people, by definition, eat, drink, chat, wriggle and get jiggy. It is up to the show itself to capture our attention – not for us to slavishly deny our hunger or aching limbs for fear of offending those on stage.
Shakespeare’s Globe was, by all accounts, a writhing sea of munching, talking, bustling and – not to put too fine a point on it – manual pleasure. Which, to me, sound a lot more fun than a five-hour experimental opera.
So, turn off your phones. Leave your camera in your bag. But bring on the popcorn.
Illustration by Narcsville.
... How to set up your own theatre company
.... How to look after your voice
Sign up to IdeasTap for advice, funding, opportunities and our weekly newsletter – with all the latest arts jobs.