26th January 2012

To the Old Vic to sit with Clare in two eye-wateringly expensive seats to watch an immaculate performance of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The back-stage comic complications, combined with the high-end prices (top whack £85 a seat – that’s eighty-five pounds!), have attracted an audience that is well-heeled, well-dressed… and well rude. I am used to people trying to talk through movies, and I have extensive experience in cinemas of tapping shoulders or turning round and emitting an urgent, audible ‘Shhh’. But in the theatre?

Is it because the couple behind me to the right feel that they’ve paid enough to disturb everyone around them? Do they believe that their obvious wealth – and equally obvious lack of taste – permits the woman of a certain age to respond to my ‘Shhh’ with an indelicate raspberry? And what about the pair in the same row to the left? Can they really think that everyone else wants to hear their inane exchanges? And then there are two more people in the row in front who chatter and persist in what my grandmother would have described as canoodling.

Shut up, people. Shut the f*** up.

And while I’m in grumpy old man mode, can I also moan about the young-ish woman sitting two seats to my right who continues to check her e-mail right through the play’s three acts? The large screen of her mobile burns brightly despite being held in her lap – and, yes, it is insistently distracting to me, and surely to others too. In any case, why come to the theatre if you can’t at least wait to the intervals to log on?

What then to do? Ask people to shut up or to turn off their mobile? If it results in the kind of exchange that I have with well-heeled stick woman, then it is definitely going to blight my evening, even if only minimally. Or should one have a word with an usher? Will they take any action? And is there any point in combining a few sharp ‘Shhhs’ with a short ill-tempered blog?


  1. Hello and welcome to why my attendance at the cinema, concerts and theatre is now practically zero. Such things are now too expensive to have to deal with the humans with no manners and too arrogant to understand the fact that in an auditorium whatever we’ve all paid to be facing en masse and experience is in that two or so hours passage more important than they are. I don’t remember it being like this in the 90s so either I’ve become less tolerant or people have become ruder.

  2. Neil Brand says:

    This appears to be massively trending – John Melville has begun a campaign in Scotland and this timely Twitter exchange between a fan and Brad Bird goes the same way – “@BradBirdA113: “@loobyloo3465: Saw MI4. Family in front on phones, talking, passing round popcorn.” Advice: COMPLAIN to mngmnt. Enough will cause change.”

  3. Helene says:

    It’s time for the theater managers to step up to the plate and muzzle these rude people. Announcements need to be made before the start of a play/movie that, in addition to no cameras being allowed, no talking, snoring and cell phone usage will be tolerated. Abusers will be asked to leave.

    As a paying customer, it’s isn’t up to you to risk a punch in the face for telling an obnoxious viewer to “Shhh.” That’s management’s responsibility.

    And one would think that with the high ticket prices these people were paying, they’d want — just as much as you — to just be quiet and enjoy the performance. Can’t these people live without their cell phones for two hours! God help us.

  4. Helene says:

    And, John, I hope for (your) security’s sake, that isn’t your Mastercard number on your ticket stub!

    • John Wyver says:

      Thanks, Helene [smile] – no, I did make sure that the number isn’t anything to do with my card; I believe it’s some kind of internal Old Vic reference.

      And thanks for your other thoughts.

  5. Duncan says:

    With row R at the back you’re among casual theatregoers who booked late. That demographic can also be the worst behaved, which is one reason that regular theatregoers are prepared to pay top dollar for the good seats. That way there’s a better chance of ending up among like-minded, well-behaved theatre lovers.

    • John Wyver says:

      With respect, Duncan, at the Old Vic I don’t think that’s quite the case – I booked a while ago and the stalls were almost sold out then. The £49.50 stalls tickets were the top price tickets apart from the £85 “super seats” or whatever they are called right in the centre of the stalls. My neighbours had certainly all booked before me since I felt lucky to find this pair tucked away in what was otherwise a sea of sold seats.

    • Helene says:

      It shouldn’t matter what your ticket costs or where your seat is located, dignifiied behavior and decorum is called for in these cases.

  6. Karen says:

    As a frequent cinema/theatre goer, I have suffered these ignorant people on many occasions. Most cinemas advise the audience to switch off mobiles and not to disturb others with chatter etc in adverts at the end of the trailers. This mostly has the desired affect though there will always be one or two twits. And most theatres ask patrons to turn off mobiles etc. What they don’t realise is how much is heard and seen from the stage. It can distract the actors quite badly.

    The biggest thing I have noticed is how the modern audience takes viewing any kind of show or film so lightly and without any respect. And it doesn’t matter if they’re well heeled or not.

    I have learned to complain, point the finger. As Brits we don’t complain enough. Get their mobiles confiscated, mouths gagged or turfed out! No matter how much money you’ve paid, politeness costs nothing!

    Rant over!

  7. Helene says:

    I have to add that I was at the Old Vic two years ago to see “Inherit the Wind,” and I didn’t notice any talking or cell phone usage that would disturb other patrons. Could times have possibly changed in only two years?

  8. John Wyver says:

    Clare made the excellent point that perhaps people feel they have more licence to talk when the play on stage is a comedy, especially one as raucous as Noises Off. I wonder if that’s the case?

  9. Paul Tickell says:

    Lots of issues are raised here, and I can certainly sympathise with the urge to put a ‘brutal’ end to the chattering, checking of mobiles etc. But isn’t there also a huge contradiction: of wanting to have your cake and eat it, ie attending the high end of bourgeois theatre but expecting it to function as a sacred space?

    Well, commerce and religion, the sacred and the profane, do not always mix so easily. Brecht would have had a good chortle at these contradictions because did he not encourage smoking, drinking and comment during a performance whether it was comedy or tragedy?

    He wanted his bourgeois theatre demystified, and probably had in mind the all together more raucous audience you’d get at the cinema, true to its roots in early 20c fairground attractions. (In a different context Eisenstein’s ‘montage of attractions’ also invoked these roots in popular entertainment.)

    Annoyed as I would be by those tossers at the Old Vic I’d also have to ask myself what I was doing there in the first place. To adapt the late Frank Zappa: Theatre isn’t dead it just smells funny.

    This discussion of audience etiquette is also a form of struggle: with morbid symptoms….

  10. Helene says:

    Could very well be, but that’s still no excuse.

  11. Craig Melson says:

    I am loving how this is the most commented post Julius Caesar page….

    If you’re paying £85 a ticket, you probably believe you are superior to those around you. I don’t think it’s acceptable to be noisy and disturb other people.

    The phone thing is what gets me the most, more so than the noise. I’ve seen so many plays illuminated by some very distracting white LCD screens- can you really not wait 3 hours for your emails?

    I don’t buy the argument audience rudeness depends on what you’re seeing, as operas and musicals are as disturbed as cinema trips (at least in my experience)….. depends on how unlucky you are with fellow humans.

  12. Nicola says:

    This reminds me of a similar phenomenon at gigs. Last year we paid £50 for back of the auditorium seats at the O2 to see the legendary James Taylor. God knows how much the seats cost where you could actually see him as more than a dot on the horizon.

    Anyway, people were constantly getting up and gong out, turning their backs on the band to, presumably, go to the loo, buy beers and cheesy nachos and bring them back in, squeezing past everyone else. What is their problem? Short attention span? A bladder the size of a peanut? Or just plain rudeness?

    • Paul Tickell says:

      I’d probably only be sighted at a James Taylor gig in a top-hat, tails and a coffin but Nicola’s description of the bad behaviour at the back of the crowd reminds me of many of the gigs I went to in the i970s and early 1980s – whether as a fan, band manager, A&R person or music journalist. The worst offenders for ruining the gig for those around them were nearly always music business people themselves. Maybe because they were ‘at work’, all their talking, laughing and shouting throughout the set, propping up the bar, and disappearing for long intervals to the toilets were forms of skiving off work. I go to very few gigs now but this comment brought on a nostalgic rush.

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