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David Lister: Flatulence, snogging, hippo heads - the stage has some strange secrets

The week in arts
  • @davidlister1

It was a delightful summer's evening at the equally delightful Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. But then things began going awry.

David Ward, the literary consultant at the Lake District venue, has compiled a booklet featuring stage managers' reports from last year's season. According to The Stage newspaper, the reports include incidents of snogging in the stalls, flatulence among actors, an actor being put "on the naughty step" (don't ask) and a hippo head in the audience.

One extract reads: "Mr Ingles was suffering from uncontrollable flatulence during Act One Scene 1, which was both audible enough to be heard in the wings and aromatic enough to be smelt by the front row of the audience." I particularly like the way that the stage managers' accounts cling to the theatrical tradition of giving the actor the dignity of the title "Mr", while in this case also ensuring that he will be known forever in the trade as the flatulent thespian.

And that's among the politer producers. The front stalls, usually among the priciest parts of the house, will be the cheap seats when Mr Ingles is performing. Let's hope he is never on stage when someone (who, knows, perhaps Mr Ingles himself) is speaking King Lear's words: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!"

I'm also intrigued by the reports of snogging in the auditorium. I've always thought it one of the unexplored aspects of British culture that snogging is traditionally rife, almost de rigueur, in cinemas, but rare at the theatre, rarer still at opera and dance, and almost unheard of at an orchestral concert. The lights are dimmest in a cinema, perhaps, though they are pretty dim at the theatre. It must be respect for the so-called high arts that keeps snogging at bay in the playhouse. Perhaps it is the faintly erotic lapping of the lake's waters that gives rise to it in Keswick.

As for the "naughty step" and the hippo's head, I guess we will just have to wait for the book, and no doubt the ensuing sitcom, to unravel those theatrical mysteries.

All in all, the collected stage managers' reports at Keswick could be a treasure trove for cultural historians. Here will be a glimpse into the underside of British arts, the mistakes, the fraying tempers, the unmannerly audiences, the fluffed lines, weak bladders and uncontrollable stomachs.

But why stop at Keswick? There are bigger and better-known venues, from the National theatre downwards. And they feature bigger and better known stars than Mr Ingles, even if he has earned himself a footnote in theatre history. We are deluged with publicity from these venues, interviews with performers and critics'reviews. But I'm beginning to realise where we will learn the realities of life on stage and in the audience.

In those secret stage managers' reports across the country, there must be insights into some of the nation's biggest stars. I wonder if they are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Cheap tickets good, booking fee bad

I was delighted to see that the phenomenally good director Michael Grandage, former head of the Donmar theatre, has announced the first West End season for his new company. It's a starry season all right, with Simon Russell-Beale, Judi Dench, Jude Law (right), Sheridan Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Whishaw and David Walliams taking part. The announcement made much of the fact that 100,000 seats over the season will be specially priced at £10. Sharing my delight was reader Marigold Atkey, who is also a supporter of my campaign against booking fees. She tells me that she booked several £10 tickets immediately, but was surprised to find there was a £2 booking fee on each. Two pounds doesn't sound a lot, but on a £10 ticket it is 20 per cent, which rather spoils the effect of deliberate (and much proclaimed) low pricing. What a pity the official announcement of the season and the cheap seats wasn't a little more transparent, admitting that each cheap ticket came with a not-so-cheap booking fee.

Armando has no need to defend his honour

There are many reasons to oppose the honours list, and to refuse an honour. But I find the hostility shown to The Thick of It writer Armando Iannucci for accepting an OBE a little curious. Former New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell led the assault, claiming that Iannucci, as a satirist of the establishment, was showing hypocrisy in joining the establishment.

Well, first of all, it is probably the most common mistake in the arts to confuse the views of a writer (and often even an actor) with the characters in their shows. Secondly, it's surely the case that The Thick of It satirises spin, political paranoia and incompetent government. It's not an anti-establishment tract.


Twitter.com/ davidlister1