He was the scourge of the rude and absent-minded theatregoer in London. Now the actor Richard Griffiths has turned his ire on audiences in New York. When mobile phone calls disrupted Wednesday's matinee of The History Boys for the third time, the actor known for his roles in the films Harry Potter and Withnail and I threatened to quit the stage.
He warned that if such bad behaviour continued, he and his co-star Clive Merrison, who plays the ambitious headmaster to Griffiths' maverick teacher in Alan Bennett's award-winning play, would not continue.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves," he told the audience. "I am not going to compete with these electronic devices. You were told to turn them off by the stage manager, you were told it was against the law." He is reported to have added: "We're going to start this scene again. If we hear one more phone go off, we'll... quit this afternoon's performance. You have been warned."
Insiders at the production at the Broadhurst Theatre insisted the outburst was polite. The producers themselves sought to play down the incident and made no comment. But Griffiths' broadside followed similar irritation in the UK when he halted performances at the National Theatre and, later, at the Wyndham's in the West End, when the hit play was interrupted.
In the West End, he eventually asked a female phone offender to leave the theatre, whereupon the audience gave him a standing ovation. It was a question of respect, he said at the time. "It's like delinquent youths on the street and the attitude of people on trains - people just do not think about the other person's point of view any more and mobile phones going off in the theatre are part of the problem."
On a previous occasion, at the National, it was subsequently suggested that a man who was asked to leave when his mobile rang repeatedly was deaf and had not heard it.
Richard Griffiths is not the only performer to have spoken out on the subject. Kevin Spacey, artistic director of the Old Vic in London, stressed there was a degree of behaviour that he expected in the theatre. "It's a phone-free zone. We don't want them ringing and we certainly don't want them ringing and people ignoring them and pretending it's not theirs."
Christopher Hitchens, the journalist and author, made clear his disapproval of mobile interruptions at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival at the weekend. "We know where you are. We know where your children are," he said, glowering menacingly.
Alistair Smith, of The Stage newspaper, said while nearly all theatres requested audiences to switch off their mobiles, interruptions were fairly regular. "Actors are planning to lobby government to legalise the use of electronic screening devices to block mobile phone signals from theatres," he said.
"As far as I understand it, the use of screening would be a good way to avoid both the interruption for the actor and the embarrassment for the person whose phone has gone off."
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