Actor wins ovation as he stages attack on phone offender

Maxine Frith,Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 23 November 2005 01:00 GMT

The actor Richard Griffiths has launched a furious tirade against mobile phones after ejecting a member of the audience from his West End play when her ringtone sounded for the third time.

Griffiths, known for his roles as Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films and Uncle Monty in the cult hit Withnail and I, was somewhat less than avuncular when his lines in the tense penultimate scene of the play Heroes were interrupted by the mobile phone call on Saturday.

He stopped mid-scene and asked: "Could the person whose mobile phone it is please leave?"

When he pinpointed the female offender, he addressed her directly, saying: "Is that it, or will it be ringing some more?

"The 750 people here would be fully justified in suing you for ruining their afternoon."

As the woman left the auditorium at the Wyndham's Theatre, the audience gave Griffiths a standing ovation before the play, also starring John Hurt, continued.

Griffiths was unrepentant yesterday about his zero tolerance stance. He said: "It was one of the last scenes of the play and I had already had to restart the speech twice because her phone had gone off.

"I didn't say anything until the third time, when I just thought it was too much. It is a question of respect and it goes right across the board of society.

"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."

David Pugh, the play's producer, said ringtone interruptions were a nightly problem for theatres, despite pleas for people to switch their mobiles off before productions start.

It is not the first time Griffiths has come up against the problem of mobile phones.

Last year, he was in the middle of a particularly dramatic scene of The History Boys at the National Theatre when a phone belonging to a man in the front row went off for the sixth time during the course of the play.

The actor stopped in the middle of his speech, fixed the offender with an icy stare and said: "I am asking you to stand up, leave this auditorium and never, ever come back."

Other members of the audience applauded as the man left the theatre, although it later emerged that he was hard of hearing and had not heard the mobile ringing.

Kevin Spacey, the Oscar-winning actor turned theatre director, has also declared war on the mobiles menace in his capacity as artistic director of the Old Vic.

He said: "You have to respect that there is some degree of behaviour that we expect in the theatre and we are going to demand it at the Old Vic.

"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 that it's not theirs."

In New York it is now an offence to let a mobile phone ring during a live performance, with transgressors facing a $50 (£30) fine.

Griffiths said the same measure should be introduced in Britain.

"Yes, absolutely, fine them £50 and hit them in their pockets," he said.

"Failing that, we could issue people with machetes and tell them to hack other people's mobile phones to bits when they go off - that should do it."

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