It’s adults, not kids, who need my guide to audience etiquette

In fact, children and teenagers are generally among the better behaved


An article in The Stage newspaper suggests that young people should be taught “theatre etiquette.” It seems that at a recent Royal Shakespeare Company performance of The Taming of the Shrew, specifically for schools, there was bad behaviour from some of the audience, becoming downright raucous whenever the principals on stage kissed. Ironically, while the younger children sat rapt throughout, it was the older teenagers who misbehaved.

Etiquette. It’s an awkward word to whisper when it comes to performance. There’s a romantic attachment to the idea of audience involvement (not least with Shakespeare, where we have all learned how the groundlings watching his plays voiced their opinions with abandon). But I’m beginning to think that we shouldn’t be shy of imposing some audience etiquette, not just for theatres, and not just for the young.

So, here are some suggestions for audience etiquette:

Rock concerts: Face the stage, don’t talk during the quiet numbers, don’t shout which song is coming next just because you have been to the show the night before, don’t push past the same people to get to the bar more than three times a night. If you spill beer over someone, offer to pay my (I mean their) dry-cleaning bill.

Cinema: No texting. The light from a mobile phone is just as distracting in a cinema as a theatre. No talking through the trailers. Trailers are an art form. And why should the “Latecomers Not Admitted Until A Suitable Break” rule apply to theatres and not cinemas? Let them eat popcorn in the foyer.

Classical Concerts: Do not cough between movements in a symphony as it’s not to clear your throat, it’s to show your peers that you are observing the old, snobbish, no clapping between movements tradition.

Comedy: Sit in the front row and when picked on by a comic in search of an easy laugh, answer in a foreign language to confuse them, or an exaggerated speech defect to embarrass them. If it’s Sarah Millican or Michael McIntyre, challenge them on how much their latest DVD made, and their views on payroll giving.

Theatre: Do not break the flow by applauding when a star comes on stage. It’s a play, not a cabaret. And if a tall person sits down in front of you, do not irritate me (I mean them) by muttering “that’s my evening ruined.”

In fact, children and teenagers are generally among the better behaved when it comes to audience etiquette. It’s those adult regular attenders who have got into bad habits. Perhaps there should be an audience etiquette guide in every programme, one that goes beyond the turning off mobile phones and taking photographs, and addresses the real irritants of an evening out.

Eight out of 10 cats agree: Jimmy Carr et al were lame

The Oscars tomorrow are likely to confirm my view that acceptance speeches are boring and lacking in wit and anecdotes. But after the recent Brit Awards, I’m wondering if those giving the awards deserve even more of a rebuke. After all, they, unlike the winners, at least know that they will be appearing and can rehearse. The Brits offered the woeful sight of the once hilarious comedian Jimmy Carr dying on stage as his lame jokes only attracted the faintest ripple of applause. In a desperate move, he then implored the audience to cheer the evening’s host James Corden. That too failed to get a response. Perhaps Carr’s much publicised tax avoidance problems have affected his act. I do wonder how much these guys get paid — and is it tax-deductible?

Where have we theatregoers’ missing millions gone?

It’s beyond me why theatregoers, myself included, meekly accept the compulsory restoration fees levied at West End theatres. As I’ve said in the past, these are effectively private businesses. Why should audiences subsidise renovations by extremely wealthy theatre owners? My puzzlement is clearly shared by reader Peter Denton who emails to say: “It’s thrilling to read that a record-breaking 14,587,276 people attended London’s theatres last year, generating sales of £585,506,455. But, every time I go to the theatre, I pay a £1 compulsory ‘theatre renovation’ tax. So, presumably, does everyone else. In which case that tax raised almost £14.6 million last year. What on earth is this vast sum of money spent on? Where are the improvements we apparently pay for - and why are we never told on what and where our money’s being spent?” Good points. I would add that, as we are paying towards these multi-millionaires’ businesses, we should be entitled to a share of their profits.

Read more:
Etiquette: the quiz
Debate: Does etiquette matter any more?

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