Karen Francisco 0

THEATRE LOVERS UNITE - Stop the disruption and take back our theatres #Silent60

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After enduring another miserable night at the theatre listening to a whole host of disruptive, selfish people around me rather than enjoying the performance I feel it's time to speak out.

I am asking theatre lovers everywhere to unite to draw attention to the increasing problem of noise in theatres in the West End and regionally and to force theatres to act swiftly to solve these issues so we can begin again to enjoy and appreciate theatre as the beautiful art form it is. Theatre should be enjoyed by everyone, from every walk of life and every age, but is it really too much to ask for people to enjoy plays and shows in comparative and appreciative silence?

After witnessing people texting, chatting, eating McDonalds and singing along during one performance alone and realising sadly this is not a unique experience, I've had it: with their selfishness and the theatre's cotton wool approach to dealing with it all. I know I'm not alone. Everyone I know in the theatre community has their own horror story to tell.

It's time to take our theatres back.

We pay a significant amount of money on tickets to the shows and plays we love, (which we don't begrudge) however the experience is increasingly spoilt by the bad behaviour of others who seem to have no clue about theatre etiquette or it seems in some cases how to behave as a decent member of the human race with consideration for others.

More recently, I've noticed a worrying trend with venues cutting the pre theatre announcements. This appears to have had a direct impact on phone and camera useage and the amount of time an usher spends sprinting up and down the aisles like a pissed off Mo Farah demonstrating semaphore badly and more flashing between usher and theatregoer than your average night dogging in Finsbury Park. (allegedly)

Once the overture has been shouted over and the first family bag of popcorn burst open and passed along the aisle, the curtain rises and with it, the noise levels steadily increase.

The savvy theatregoer naturally has already got in three pints, a vodka jelly and a whisky chaser to get them through the first 50 minute first act. Not forgetting the essential full cup of ice to rattle during the quiet scenes (once the drinks have been downed during the opening number)

Then it's time for food. The enterprising theatregoer is brilliant at multitasking, saving a few pennies while optimising time during the 'boring ballads' by having dinner. The female leads opens her lungs to give her Sondheim and bang on cue, it's time to break out the scotch eggs and party rings. Only once the picnic (prepared to feed a small principality) has been consumed in its entirety can the interval trip to the bar be braved to stock up on 2nd Act treats: tightly cellophane wrapped sweets and family bags of homemade crisps to masticate joyfully and, of course, more drink to make it through that tricky last hour. God forbid a sudden shortage of M&Ms or Prosecco in a plastic cup (warm Prosecco this time as everyone else has snatched up every last cube of ice to clink along in the big finale).

Then the inevitable toilet run begins. The clever theatregoer has avoided the mad interval queues for the loo of course, so the 2nd half songs beat to the accompaniment of seats all over the theatre banging up and down like sailor's arse (allegedly).

In the last 12 months alone I have sat in the row behind a couple eating a Chinese takeaway complete with prawn crackers, I've lost count of people loudly discussing the show plot as if they're watching TV at home and I've endured Phantom while someone translated it into Japanese for the benefit of the person next to them and apparently everyone in the immediate vicinity of The Haymarket.

So what's to be done?

Ushers swooping in to stop this behaviour during a performance is obviously a fine balance between curbing the distraction and not making more by doing so. The dilemma is also faced by your average theatre goer like me who just wants to watch the show in peace (having paid a significant sum to do so) but above a few tuts and murderous looks towards the offender, faces being disruptive themselves by confronting them. Often these people argue 'their rights' as a theatre goer to sing along and chat or to play Candy Crush on a phone so bright it can certainly be seen on stage and most probably viewed from Space. It is also their 'right' as a paying member of the public to stuff their faces for two hours with food wrapped in bags and cellophane only slightly quieter than a Lear Jet circling overhead. Yes it's their 'right' but it doesn't make it right.

I feel the theatre has a clear responsibility to do something. At the very least, a strenuous announcement at the start and more usher presence at the front of stalls facing the patrons.

More thought should be given to what foods and sweets are being served in the concession stands and noisy foods removed completely. I appreciate that the concessions make a lot of money for the theatres, but at what ultimate cost to the paying patrons? Do Pringles really make our theatrical experience more enjoyable? Would the lack of a tube of Sour Cream crisps present a deal breaker in terms of deciding to go to see Kinky Boots or Les Mis?

The shortage of toilet facilities is a overdue concern with long interval lines outside the ladies at the majority of West End theatres I've visited. The queue obviously made worse by the allowance of drinks in the auditorium.

Ultimately, loud and disruptive offenders should be dealt with immediately and not left til the interval. For some of us it is the only opportunity we might have to see a show or actor and make a memory of that show. No idea what it must feel like for the actors onstage trying to work through it all. If the view and noise from the stalls is anything to go by, I imagine the actors facing a sea of pissed, masticating techno freaks.

The selfishness of a smaller majority of patrons and the theatre's part in enabling this selfishness should not spoil the enjoyment of the vast.

Surely 60 minutes - the average time per act is not too much time to expect an adult to be silent and still. Really.


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