Dear West End Producer: ‘Should theatre audiences ask for their money back if they can’t hear the actors?’
@westendproducer What proportion of an actor’s fee should be deducted if they can’t be heard or understood?
— Robert Bathurst (@RobertBathurst) February 12, 2016
If you buy a lawnmower and it doesn’t cut the grass, you get a refund. If you buy an item of clothing and it doesn’t fit properly, you take it back. And if you go to the theatre and can’t hear the actors – you get annoyed and wished you’d stayed at home to watch Strictly.
Theatre offers no refunds, no money-back guarantee, and no way of ensuring the actors actually possess technique. Sadly, these days the trend is for actors to adopt the television style of acting, in which the first five rows in the stalls can hear everything, but the rest of the theatre might as well be sitting two miles away.
Now I understand that actors want to keep their performances natural and realistic, but for goodness sake, you are performing in a theatre, not a TV drama series where everyone tries not to blink and mumbles every line. Theatre is its own medium and needs to be respected as such.
Many people detest the use of microphones in a theatre, but if they allow the audience to hear what is being said, I have no problem with them. Yes, they often look like big moles on an actor’s head, or flying black dildos hanging above the stage – but if you can ignore these little distractions then clarity and volume are at least improved.
If an actor is on stage and is not audible, they are just masturbating on stage for their own benefit
I recall the good old days when directors and fellow actors would sit all around the auditorium to make sure they could hear their fellow performers. Indeed this tradition should still be upheld. Put simply, if an actor is standing on stage and talking at a volume that is not audible, they are not doing their job properly – they are just masturbating on stage for their own benefit. And this is not on.
So yes, theatres should offer a refund. Of course this would be very difficult to apply, and I’m sure some audience members would simply lie to get their money back. But maybe the answer is a kind of audibility test – where an ‘acting sound controller’ measures the volume of actors’ voices. If the actor’s volume is not to standard, they would be led quickly out of the theatre, thrown into the back of a white van and given a week-long intensive course on ‘how to project properly’ at RADA.
Maybe we should revert back to Shakespeare’s time, when audience members got involved in productions and shouted out if they didn’t like it: ‘Speak up’, ‘Kristin, what was that?’ or ‘Hey Stephen, there is an audience, we’re not here to be ignored, dear.’ Then if they still don’t speak up perhaps the audience should throw something. Like a brick.
Mumbling and inaudibility might eventually make plays so unwatchable that people will stay away. Put simply, theatre is about storytelling – and that’s very hard to do if no one can hear what the bloody hell anyone is saying.
Christmas is coming and my new book is out: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre (But Were Too Sloshed to Ask, Dear). It is available from Nick Hern Books, Amazon and all good bookshops, dear.
Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer