David Lister: Nice sex, shame about the play

Related Topics

It's certainly one of the more bizarre arts stories of the week, if not the year.

People have been spotted not just texting and talking, but canoodling and even, to judge from reports, "pleasuring" one another in the audience at West End theatres. The relatively new trend of theatres allowing audiences to bring drinks into the auditorium might be a factor in this. But whatever the reason, the actors are becoming restless.

Patrick Stewart and Rosamund Pike were among performers who complained this week about new, low levels of audience behaviour. Theatre, it seems, has its own barmy army.

I have to say, I don't quite get the thrill of sex in the stalls. The seats are pretty uncomfortable at the best of times and very expensive. There must be better places.

The top West End producer Nica Burns is now employing security men to eject rowdy and boisterous audience members. Are they then handed over to the police to be formally charged? "I'm sorry, sir, but you and this young lady are under arrest for indecent behaviour during the second soliloquy in Hamlet. We also have reason to believe that you were indulging in an obscene act in one of the tragicomic debates on the human condition in Waiting for Godot. We have decided to ignore a suspected act of indecency during Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, as the boys down the station agree it does get a bit wordy."

Perhaps the answer is for immoral acts in the theatre to be confined to the upper circle so as not to disturb the actors. Such behaviour is pretty rare, I suspect, and I am more concerned about other forms of disturbance in the stalls. This week I saw Jez Butterworth's fantastic new state-of-the-nation play Jerusalem at the Royal Court, with a mesmerising central performance by Mark Rylance. The play opens with a young girl on stage singing the hymn "Jerusalem". At the performance I attended, a gentleman in the stalls decided to sing along. I don't think he was inebriated. My hunch is that there was an involuntary trigger in his brain which jerked him back to his schooldays and morning assembly. The poor girl on stage looked bemused. Singing along – even at musicals – is an immoral act. At straight plays it must be stamped down on. Offenders should be ejected.

And then there's laughter. That in itself is not a crime. But excessive, and excessively loud and forced laughter can spoil even the smartest comedy. I would particularly like the new security guards to pounce on people who laugh uproariously during Shakespeare's comedies, and to use G20-style force on anyone even giggling during the porter's speech in Macbeth. Such people are not genuinely amused; they are showing off their English degrees.

I also think a strict three coughs and you're out policy should be instituted. Playhouses are not hospitals. Neither are they cinemas. Unwrapping sweets is noisier than a passionate embrace.

There's plenty for the new theatre security guards to get worked up about. But I shouldn't worry too much about sex in the stalls. It's not going to happen often, and if it does, it must be a pretty boring play.

An aphorism a day is the Cohen way

The new memoir of the American showbiz lawyer Steven Machat, which is published next month, has a memorable exchange with Leonard Cohen. The singer tells Machat he is going later that day to the temple. Machat teases him about observing a Jewish festival, saying: "I thought you were supposed to be a Buddhist." Cohen replies: "I want to keep all my options open. Maybe Buddha, maybe God."

Machat then asks him: "What are you doing now?" Cohen responds: "You know how it is, Steven. We humans are always looking for things to do between meals."

Did Cohen, I wonder, always come out with great aphorisms every time he opened his mouth? He seems to eschew small talk for lines that are potential album titles. Or potential titles of an autobiography.

Pity the poor comedy critic at this time of year

The only funny line that I can recall in my years covering the Edinburgh Festival was not actually intended to be funny and was, immodestly, about myself. I wrote a slightly negative piece about women on the stand-up circuit and received a lecture in print from the comedy critic of Time Out magazine, culminating in the angry last line: "David Lister should expose himself to more female comedians."

I'm trying. I'm trying. This year's Edinburgh line-up has a wealth of comedians, female and male, and it could be a vintage year. My heart does go out, though, to comedy critics and also to newspaper readers at this time of year. Every paper is full of comedy reviews from Edinburgh, but how do you actually review comedy? Give away the jokes and you spoil the show for everyone still to see it; don't tell any of the jokes and you are left annoying readers with meaningless descriptions of a "wonderful routine about a bus journey".

It's tricky. No wonder the one thing that comedy critics have in common with comedians is that they never smile.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Justine Thornton with her husband, Labour leader Ed Miliband  

Why do these otherwise intelligent political wives allow themselves to become talking handbags?

Janet Street-Porter
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform