Martin Freeman, Richard III, and theatre etiquette

Martin Freeman’s Richard III is attracting a new - and rowdier - audience, theatregoers complain. Don’t shush them, says Natalie Haynes, this is how theatre should be

Hell, as Sartre pointed out after a particularly trying evening at the theatre, is other people. Audiences are truly the bane of live performance. They talk through the Entr’acte, display a mysterious deafness for announcements about turning off their phones, and issue tubercular coughs that would have had Florence Nightingale bellowing, “For Christ’s sake, keep it down.”

And, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, enthusiastic young people have been buying tickets to see Martin Freeman in Richard III. Not only that, but when he first appears onstage, they have been cheering. Cheering, I tell you. As though they were having actual fun in a theatre, instead of sitting in reverent silence, mouthing along to “Now is the winter of our discontent”.

Benedict Comberbatch as Frankenstein Benedict Comberbatch as Frankenstein I do understand that the rules of theatre etiquette are there for a reason. It is intensely irritating to watch an actor lose concentration because someone’s phone starts ringing midway through the first act. But teenagers aren’t the only culprits: the most phone calls I ever heard in one show (five) was at a press night at the Royal Court. The perps were all old enough to know better, and several of them were being paid to attend. At Bring Up The Bodies, a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting a couple of rows behind a man in his late thirties, who couldn’t stop texting. Anne Boleyn swiftly became the second-most likely person to lose a head that night.

But theatre is unlikely to thrive and survive in an atmosphere of stuffy disapproval. And being a fan of an actor isn’t rude, like using a phone is. Of course it’s distracting when an audience breaks out into spontaneous applause at the appearance of a star, as though it were the opening scene of a cheesy sitcom (although the good thing about Richard III is that, once he’s onstage, he pretty much stays there). But star-casting is part of what keeps theatres in business. Trafalgar Studios is a small enterprise that consistently puts on interesting work, and Freeman’s fans (many of them young viewers of Sherlock) are contributing to its upkeep.

Since the criticism seems to be that they don’t know how to behave at the theatre, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that it’s their first time, and try to make them feel welcome, instead of sniffily showing them they’re not? Last time I saw The Woman in Black, the auditorium was packed with teenagers who were doing it as a set text. They screamed at every scary moment, and issued proclamations of dread at every interlude. It wasn’t what I was expecting when I bought my ticket, but it was hard to shake a jubilant feeling that a whole generation of theatregoers was being created.

David Tennant as Hamlet David Tennant as Hamlet The idea that the theatre should be a place of reverence is a recent one: groundlings at the Globe were unlikely to be watching Shakespeare in silence. Indeed, go to the Globe now and, even if the audience behaves beautifully, the actors will still be competing against planes, sirens and – last time I was there – a vengeful seagull. From its very beginnings, theatre has fought against distraction: Aeschylus’s Oresteia, for example, was first performed at the Dionysia, a festival in ancient Athens. In addition to being a theatre fan, Dionysus was the god of wine, so audiences were unlikely to be sober.

Fans of Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant and Daniel Radcliffe are just as entitled to see their heroes in a play as regular theatregoers, and their money is subsidising less commercial plays that otherwise might not get put on at all. If you don’t want to hear teenage girls screaming at Martin Freeman, then wait for a different production of Richard III. But if we don’t welcome a new generation into the audience (who will doubtless learn theatre etiquette over time, like everyone else), we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the auditorium is silent because it’s empty.

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash