THE poster said 7.30pm. The flyer said 7.30pm. The ticket said 7.30pm. As usual, however, a significant proportion of the audience seemed surprised the show actually started at 7.30pm.
It happens at almost every show I go to. The band has struck up the overture, the auditorium lights have dimmed, flickered and been extinguished and in they walk, juggling drinks, sweets and programmes as they try to locate their seat that, odds on, is in the middle of a row, requiring everyone who arrived on time to vacate their seat for a moment to let them past.
Yes, there’s something about a night at the theatre - although matinees are just as bad - that turns the brightest of people into dundering dolts, incapable of locating their seat. What can be so difficult about finding the correct row and then counting along?
Then you have those who do that perfectly. They take their coats off, open their sweets and settle back to be entertained... only to cause mayhem when they discover their tickets are for the Upper Circle and they’re camped out in someone else’s seats in the stalls, as those they have deprived of their stalls seats wait patiently for them to vacated. Cue packing of sweets and grabbing of bags and coats.
Groups booking are worse still. I watched one community trip led by a Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles-type, who mithering back and forward between the rows dispensing cartons of juice and bags sweets from a gigantic bottomless bag for life.
Organised then, surely he’d be seated ready for the off. You must be kidding. Five minutes into the show he remembered his seat was somewhere near the centre of a row and in he came, bag flapping as he went.
To be honest, the theatres only have themselves to blame. The days of shows going up on time seem a thing of the past in many venues and audiences take advantage of this, but holding the curtain until they’re seated only encourages selfish behaviour.
It’s never acceptable for a professional show to go up 10 minutes late, something that is a personal bugbear, after all, if the company and theatre aren’t fussed about going up on time, why should the audience be?
And don’t get me started on bringing drinks into the auditorium. At what point did it become impossible to sit and watch a show for an hour without having to have a drink in your hand?
The obvious consequences also disrupt performances - it’s not unusual at some shows for their to be a steady stream of trips to the loo.
The answer is simple. Theatre managements need to make sure that shows go up on time with no admittance for late-comers.
Some already do, of course. No reentry until after the interval for those who have to leave during the show is another rule that needs reinforced.
However, then many venues might loose bar sales... and therein lies the rub.