Switch on your mobile phone!

Actors and theatres shouldn't be scared of signs of life in an audience – and that includes ringtones, says Benjamin Halligan

Chasing after theatre culture in London's West End has become a disconcerting experience for the ticket buyer.

Name theatres have been "hollowed out", in the neo-liberal manner, and the resultant shell leased to a rota of interested parties: theatre companies and their productions, of course, but also businesses seeking hospitality venues to impress for receptions and presentations. Ticket selling is outsourced too, with the result that the theatre box-office kiosk has become little more than a manned portal to the virtual box-office conglomerate. You'll be told that there are no tickets left for a production opening months hence and redirected to the theatre's website, which will link to the theatre's official (that is, approved) ticketing agency. Here tickets are plentiful but resold at an enormous mark-up, typically in the region of 500 per cent. So for a family of four to sit in the stalls of an "event" West End production, the damage from this institutionalisation of ticket scalping can run to four figures.

Yet this kind of money does not buy the opportunity to step into a "traditional" event, or buy a way into, or be part of, something historical. The experience on the night is fragmented, and akin to that of an open-air music festival with its subcontracted facilities and passing-through stars and the visibility of brand name sponsorship and limpet cottage industries. The production is parachuted in, along with programme sellers, with the actual front-of-house theatre staff – themselves increasingly subject to casualisation – left to serve the drinks and rip the tickets. Within minutes of the curtain falling, individual cast members can be seen to bolt from the building into the car waiting to whisk them to their hotel, often provided by the ticketing agency. In this set-up, the theatre event is bereft of history, place, bustle, community and ritual – the very ingredients that constitute the uniqueness of the experience understood to finesse or even justify that painful 500 per cent mark-up. And this, I would suggest, is the context for the recent phenomenon of "mobile phone incidents".

Bleeps and ringtones, tuts and shushes, the dramatic text interrupted by the pings of the incoming text and – if you're very unlucky – a one-on-one with some of the great thespians of our time. Name actors, some momentarily unrestrained by the dignity of their knighted offices, have suspended their performances mid-flow, along with the very play itself, to turn their ire on, via a direct address dressing-down, those whose dittying mobile has broken the spell of the willing suspension of disbelief. The ripples on the normally calm surface of assumed behaviour increasingly wash up in the tabloid and broadsheet press as a concern with the behaviour in and appropriate to the theatre.

What's the subtext of "Please ensure that your mobile phone is turned off"? Something along the lines of "Keep your clamour outside! In here is theatre, which has no truck with your temporal ephemera." Electronic smog is to be dispelled from the pure air in and through which the actor performs. This is the art form that demands both attention and, as a sign of attention, silence. This ridiculous bluster and hubris over mobiles is, surely, the attempt at re-establishing the way theatre has been known. However, mobiles could be that missing uniqueness of the theatre event. The absolute demand for respect and silence is a sign of desperation and a measure of hypocrisy.

The resultant de facto ban on mobile use is evidence that the theatre building is dead rather than just, as successive generations of upstart playwrights have it, that the theatre is dead. Our enraged actors should silently thank audience members for the disruption. This is what performance needs to surpass to gain attention, and, in so doing, recast the theatre as a place of non-virtual life.

Benjamin Halligan is senior lecturer in performance at the University of Salford

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'