- The Stage - https://www.thestage.co.uk -

Dear West End Producer: ‘If other audience members look at their phones more than the stage, can I throw popcorn at them?’

If someone is at the theatre, they should have their phone turned off. Simple. There really is no excuse for anyone to light up the auditorium while everyone else is trying to watch. It is infuriating, rude and disrespectful to other audience members and actors.

Luckily, we are not at the stage in the UK yet where many theatres have ‘tweet seats’ – an area of the auditorium where people can use their phones during shows. This area is towards the back, so it’s not as distracting to other people. But really, my dear? I realise people feel the need to make instant comments on social media and are frustrated without the dopamine hit their phones give them. But we are all getting addicted. If people feel they can’t focus for a couple of hours without relaying their inane thoughts to their fake internet friends, then I give up, I really do.

Theatre is a place where people go to forget the day-to-day. It should, if done properly, transport an audience away from their everyday worries and woes. Indeed, theatre is a medium that demands complete focus.

But some people cannot do this. We live in a time of instant gratification, where the online life can seem more exciting than normality. We constantly refresh our screens while desperately searching for information – switching between Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Grindr (though I wouldn’t know what that is, dear) – losing ourself in this world for hours on end. As a result, people are finding reading, watching and concentrating harder than ever.

But at the theatre this has to stop. There are accepted rules that make the experience better for everyone. And these rules certainly don’t make theatre ‘elitist’. They exist to allow everyone to enjoy the experience as much as possible. In my second book, I joked about my ‘theatre prefect’ scheme – where audience members are awarded points by completing tasks including: throwing Maltesers into snorers’ mouths, discretely trimming the hair of people like Brian May, and using cattle prods to poke people who use their phones.

My little joke was pounced upon by some over-sensitive souls who had nothing better to do with their time than get upset and moan because they thought I was making theatre elitist. It was clearly said in jest.

However, I was hinting at a serious point. In a theatre production for which people have paid as much as £200 a ticket, everyone should abide by a code of conduct. It’s simply good manners. You don’t go to the Grand National dressed only in a thong or run on to a football pitch during a game. Rules, even unwritten ones, are there for a reason.

Finally, to reiterate, playing with a phone at the theatre is downright unacceptable. It distracts audience and performers, means the user could be illegally recording the production and is just plain rude.

So go ahead. Target those naughty people with popcorn as much as you like. In fact, I would suggest going further and throwing something more effective. Like a brick, dear.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer [3]

Mark Shenton: It’s time to tackle noisy food and mobile phones in theatres [4]