“PLEASE switch off your mobile phone, unwrap noisy sweet wrappers, and remember the use of recording or photographic equipment is strictly prohibited.”
How many times have you heard that before the start of a show? Not that everyone pays attention, after all, most phones seem to be permanently switched to silent these days, so why bother turning them off?
Theatre going is changing, of that there is no doubt. The etiquette of ‘a night at the opera’ that once required patrons to don ballgowns and evening dress, is thankfully, a thing of the past. A positive thing, yet not without its drawbacks.
The biggest culture change in recent years has been the appearance of drinks (and drunks) in the auditorium, albeit in plastic glasses. That was the start of the decline... today it’s not unusual to spot a bottle of wine being slipped from a handbag or flask of whisky from inside pocket in the stalls. And with all that drink it’s only a matter of time until nature takes its course and imbibers start nipping out.
It’s the price that has to be paid for keeping theatres open, I reckon. I’ve always believed theatre should be accessible to everyone, so happily champion productions like Dirty Dancing - not my cup of tea but they do attract new and at times unexpected audiences, hen parties for one!
It’s those new audiences, attracted by the promise of a live retelling of their favourite movie or the chance to see a reality TV ‘star’ they helped create that keep theatres viable. If it weren’t, producers wouldn’t book them.
So while I accept that auditorium behaviour is changing, annoying as it is, one thing that does drive me mad, is the use of mobile phones during a show. The number of people who think it is acceptable to text or take a call as the action unfolds is remarkable.
Of course, had you attended the opening of one of Shakespeare’s works back in the day, it would have been an equally rowdy affair - audiences cat-calling characters while vendors moved through them selling wine, beer, fruit, tobacco and playbooks.
Wait a minute, that sounds familiar. Maybe things haven’t really changed at all. They’ve just come full circle.