Wednesday, December 6

The Ultimate Theatre Etiquette Behaviour Guide – Part 1

OK, so we spent 2 years in our favourite slouchy clothes eating far too much ice cream whilst binge watching everything that every streaming platform had to offer. The Pandemic changed the way we all existed daily, from the moment we got up to the moment we fell asleep, everything changed. Whilst the pandemic is not over, life has started to return to normal, with one of the final industries to get back to a somewhat pre pandemic existence being theatre.

However, this return hasn’t gone as smoothly for some people, those people just excited to be back out in entertainment venues living their best lives, as they should. The problem is though, it seems like some audience members have completely forgotten about theatre etiquette if the message boards are anything to go by. For the past few months, I have been keeping an eye on a UK theatre message board to see what people have been saying about their experiences at the theatre, and it’s very clear that things aren’t going as swimmingly as they should be.

Now, I get it, you want a fun night out, and each production and cast are doing the best to give you a night to remember, but, please, give them a night to remember as well, one that does not include you trying to become the star of the show from seat G7.

So, as we try to get back to normal, here are a few reminders of the things not to do when you go to the theatre.

For the future stars! Now for the past few years of the pandemic you have dedicated your shower time to singing at the top of your lungs to nail that big note in Frozen. Eight months in and mission completed you are now dedicated to learning every word to the cast recording of Six (all parts, thank you), and by the end of year one and craving theatre, you have dressed your pets up as the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, just so you could play the role of Pritti in front of your family. Yes, life has been hard without theatre, and all us theatre lovers felt it. However, now theatre is back, and you are a true musical theatre god or goddess, thanks to said shower practice, you book a seat to your favourite show Frozen, the excitement is building, you are finally back in the theatre, and it feels like a great big hug.

©Disney – Photography by Johan Persson

You sit there, the orchestra begins, the cast start to transport you to a whole new world and then… Let It Go starts. You have practised this note, practised hard, and you are good, so you go to open your mouth to sing but luckily your GBF stops you by throwing a Tic Tac in to your mouth. You see, you may feel ready for the West End stage, and maybe you are, but you aren’t in this show. The audience have paid a lot of money to see this and listen to the cast, so please, whatever you do, do not sing along at the show (if it has a megamix for the audience to join in though, then you live your best star life) but leave the show to the ones on stage. Your time will come.

One for the grownups! During lockdown you decided that after a stressful day of working from home whilst trying to entertain the kids by starring in their dance videos on TikTok, you rightly rewarded yourself with a nice tipple at the end of the day. By the end of lockdown however you have realised that you’re on a bottle of red a night because my god, you miss other adults and nights out. You finally get the girls together; you decide on a few drinks before heading to the theatre to see Only Fools and Horses the Musical. After your best girlfriend makes you do shots to celebrate your freedom, you realise you are seeing three of her and you are contemplating throwing up in the pubs decorative plant pots (come on, we have all been there) but hey, it’s off to the theatre you go.

Image: Johan Persson

Now this is what’s going to happen, you will be late, you will trip over people trying to get to your seat, your phone isn’t switched off so will keep going off and at some point, you find yourself having a conversation with Del Boy, something the rest of the audience does not appreciate… nor does Del Boy. You are hammered, you can’t focus on the show at all, and at one point after falling asleep you loudly wake up startled wondering where you are but hey, you love this song, so you sing along. You probably don’t realise this but the audience, the cast, the crew, the front of house staff are not your biggest fans right now, and their night is ruined (and you know people will Tweet about it). This is something you would have never done sober. So don’t be that person, go to the theatre first, then hit the town for a night out after, it will be so much more fun, I promise, and that way, everybody is happy.

One for the Mobile Phone addicted! During Lockdown you spent most of your time communicating with your friends and loved ones via your phone or Zoom (shudders). From gossiping with friends, playing games, checking on the news and trying to figure out what the hell Wordle is, it meant we all ended up attached to our phones, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Well now It’s time to head back in to the real world so you and your wife book a ticket to watch Back to the Future the Musical, I mean, you are a huge fan, and you know the movie inside out. You are on your phone on the train letting everybody know that you are finally going on a night out and it’s to see the epic Marty McFly. You take pictures outside the theatre and then head to your seat. The show starts and you have to let everyone know how much fun you are having so you start taking photos. STOP!

Photo: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Here is the thing, the cast loves that you are having a great time, but the cast can also see you, like really see you.  Not only are you not allowed to take pictures of the show, but it’s completely off putting to the cast and those around you. You also update your Instagram and text the kids in the middle of the show to let them know that the guy from Hostel 2 is playing Doc. The people around you start looking at you like your teacher did when you did something wrong, and this time, you did do something wrong. Sorry, but for a few hours you will need to learn to live without the addictive device, as hard as that might be. Put it on silent (or vibrate if you have kids at home) and leave it off, experience the world unfolding in front of you, it’s what separates theatre from other art forms, and it’s glorious. Also, you spent a fortune on the best tickets, so lose yourself in Hill Valley, 1985 and let the hard-working company let you relive that childhood memory, you earned it. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t ever ever talk on a mobile phone whilst the show is playing out in front of you, not only is hugely disrespectful…. but they didn’t have mobile phones when Back to the Future was set, so technically, they don’t exist.

For those who like to talk! Now, a year or two without in person conversations with people, especially your best mate has been a killer, Zoom (shudder) can only do so much, but it’s not as good as having a good old chin wag in person, it’s human connection after all. As we are unleashed back in to society you call your BFF and tell them that you have booked tickets for the pair of you to see &Juliet. You meet up, head for a coffee and realise why you love chatting with your best mate so much in person, it’s perfect, you have missed it. At the theatre, you continue to talk before the show starts, excitement is high, this show has your favourite hits in, you are ready to party with Juliet. The lights dim down, the show begins and… you keep talking. Each joke, you turn to your friend and talk about it. Juliet sings Hit Me Baby One More Time and you have a 3-minute conversation about the new orchestrations (I like them by the way), and when Romeo descends from the rafters, you discuss his costume design in painful detail.

Photo: Johan Persson

We all love to talk, but there’s a time to listen, watch and enjoy and theatre is certainly one of those times. The cast want you to laugh, cry, applaud and be moved, but they don’t want to hear how the song they are currently singing is the song you made out to with your first boyfriend, and neither do the people around you. Most shows have intervals, use that time to chat about the show as you queue for a drink or enter the dreaded lines at the toilets. You and your friend should share this special moment, you are at a show, that’s cool, don’t miss it by talking, that’s what you do on the bus ride home whilst clutching your programme to make everyone jealous.

I have experienced all of these above, either as an audience member, a performer, a front of house staff member and as a writer and director, it really can be a jungle out there, no matter if you are at the theatre for work or play. One story that sticks with me when it comes to talking in the theatre is from back in 2005. I was at the Palace Theatre in Manchester watching Jekyll and Hyde the musical. I was sat next to my ex ready to enjoy a bit of cheesy Gothic thrills, but on the other side of us sat two ladies who literally repeated each line to each other after the actor had said it, then laughed about it. It was so strange and went on like that throughout act one. Luckily, we changed seats for act 2, from the stalls to the Circle, yet we could STILL hear them. Thankfully, the production turned out to be awful, so we didn’t miss much, but still, rude!

So, let’s be excited about theatre again, after all, we love it, but let’s respect each other and the cast and crew by following simple etiquette, the front of house staff are not paid enough to deal with non-stop bad audience behaviour, so help them out, give them a smile, sit back and just enjoy the show.

Part Two to follow next week, what bad theatre behaviour would you put on the list?

Till next time.