A heckled comedian can answer back. But for actors the show must go on - as Sir Peter Hall knows

At the climax of a performance of Uncle Vanya, the film and theatre director interrupted from the stalls to make it known he thought the performance sub-par

Share

Dealing with a heckler is a tough job.

For comedians, it’s just par for the course. People feel like they’re helping out by joining in, and the look of glee on the face of someone demolished by a heckler-squashing maestro (stand-up comedian Daniel Kitson is the king of this) makes everyone believe that it’s all part of the fun. The point being that a comedian can tell the offender to piss off without breaking character.

For actors, it’s much trickier. Breaking character to tell someone to turn off the damn phone or stop coughing can spoil the whole performance. So most suffer in silence, like poor Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith from Downton Abbey). During her final speech in Uncle Vanya, some of the audience became aware of either a quiet heckle or a noisy mutter. It was Sir Peter Hall, who is reported to have said, “Stop, stop, stop. It doesn’t work and you don’t work. It is not good enough. I could be at home watching television.”

While many of us may have felt that way at the theatre, it isn’t polite to say so. I myself, when watching Hall’s production of The Bacchae at the National some years ago, felt very much like bellowing those exact same words. But I contained myself.

Sir Peter has apologised for the remarks, saying they weren’t directed at Carmichael or the production, but were prompted by his disorientation, after he’d fallen asleep. Obviously, falling asleep is itself a bit of a critical judgement, as those of us who have stood gamely on stage while someone snores through our work might have thought.

Hopefully, Carmichael feels better now but there are actors less than keen to forgive. Ethel Merman once left the stage, mid-note, to bundle a drunken heckler into the street. Katharine Hepburn yelled at someone who wouldn’t stop taking photographs, “Get out, get out. I’ll pay you twice what you paid for the ticket.” Legend has it that her fan was escorted, weeping, from the theatre.

That’s not the worst that can happen to a heckler. Last week, Stuart Rodger was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for heckling David Cameron. Sir Peter Hall might consider himself lucky to get away with an apology.

Five Go Mad For HG Wells

I mainly feel sad about the news that Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books are to be made into a TV series, since – according to the producers – the growing demand for adventure stories correlates with children spending more time indoors.

But after I’ve finished feeling sad about children, pressing their noses against the window like woeful puppies longing to go out, I feel alarmed. The Famous Five series will have a contemporary twist. And that contemporary twist will be time travel.

Yes, time travel. It turns out that our fad for Keep-Calm-and-Wear-Cath-Kidston style nostalgia needs a bit of HG Wells chucked in, too. So George and Timmy the dog will be heading back in time, which will, I guess, enable the programme-makers to maintain the integrity of the piece while questioning its values. And that’s a time-travel trick worthy of Dr Who himself.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

£18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

Recruitment Genius: Designer

£32969 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Engineer

£35000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Data Engineer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence