Recently watching Macbeth, the first production in Trafalgar Studio’s transformed season, during Act One its lead James McAvoy suddenly added new lines to Shakespeare’s text.
“Oi! Turn that f***king camera off!” as he broke character to lambast an audience member before saying, “Sorry guys, now back to acting.”
At the curtain call, McAvoy apologised to the audience for his outburst, although not, he said, for telling the audience member off but for his use of expletives in doing so.
The performance was followed by a post-show discussion where McAvoy received commiserations for enduring such audience behaviour, with one female attendee going so far as to say, “James, when you said that in the show I had not even realised it was not part of the script!”
Having recently watched an episode of BBC One’s quiz show Pointless, in which contestants were asked to name any speaking character from Hamlet, Othello, or Macbeth, one came up with ‘Mercutio’ – from Othello! The best another could do was from Hamlet: ‘The skull!” – clearly Shakespeare’s works remain unfamiliar to many.
But that’s what’s great about the Trafalgar Transformed season and its mission to attract first-time audiences with a production like Macbeth.
For me, McAvoy’s outburst wrecked the remainder of the act
However, suppose I had been a first-time audience member with that camera in unfamiliar surroundings. There was no pre-show announcement prohibiting photographs and if I was more familiar with going to gigs where taking pictures is actively encouraged, how would I feel and crucially, would I ever want to come back?
For me, McAvoy’s outburst wrecked the remainder of the act taking me completely out of the play and its world that had been so successfully created. But it was his following comment of “… now back to acting” that annoyed me most making it feel this was just a character played by an actor.
I certainly don’t want to watch a show with a barrage of flash bulbs and neither should any actor have to put up with it. However, nor do I want to discourage fans coming possibly for the first time to the theatre because their favourite actor remains completely inaccessible.
During Oh What A Lovely War on Broadway in 1964 at the height of Beatle-mania, its star Victor Spinetti was a familiar face to fans from appearing in their movies. At each performance, those fans in the audience would scream when he first walked on stage. Victor would then raise his hand and explain to the audience this was a serious play but at the end they could come down to the front and have a 15 minute question-and-answer session with him on the Beatles – it ensured the show was respected and this continued nightly throughout its run.
Perhaps a solution in this digital age is that we allow audiences to photograph the curtain call: if we did, then with a guaranteed photo opportunity maybe pictures or film would not be shot during a performance, and if those curtain call pictures subsequently appeared on Facebook or Youtube for the continuing profile of productions and their stars this could even be seen as advantageous to all parties.