Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Dear West End Producer: ‘What can I do about a loud breather next to me in the theatre?’

by -

Emily: Excuse me sir, but are you going to breathe like that for the entire performance?

Man: ( loud breath ) What? ( loud breath )

Emily: Your breathing. It’s extremely loud. Louder than the actors. All I can hear is you taking air into your lungs and then expelling it. Can you do it more quietly? Perhaps close your mouth a little and try not to sound like a pissed whale? Is that possible?

Man: ( loud breath ) You are very rude. ( loud breath )

Emily: And you are very loud. Please… I’ll buy you an ice-cream in the interval.

Man: ( loud breath ) Deal. ( slightly quieter exhale of breath )

When sitting next to a heavy breather there are a limited number of options. Firstly, check that the person in question is not actually your guest – because you can just tell them to shut up and leave. Problem solved. Of course this is highly unlikely, because: why would you invite a loud breather with you? So – what are your options?

Firstly, assess how loud they’re going to be. If they’ve just sat down then maybe they’re out of breath because of running to their seat, so give them a few minutes. If the volume stays the same or, God forbid, gets worse, then you have to decide on your game plan. You either go in abruptly or take a more subtle approach.

The subtle way – give a few quizzical glances at the perpetrator. Then gently enquire: “Are you all right? I notice you’re breathing heavily. Do you need some water – I’m going to the bar, I could get you some?”. This is a clever tactic because it raises the point of their loud lung function, meaning they’ll be embarrassed and do it quieter, but it also makes you appear concerned.

However, breathing is a natural function, and some people can’t control their foghorn exhales. If the breathing continues, explain the situation to a front-of-house staff staff member and ask if you could change seats. Most people will understand your plight and reseat you without any problems – but if the show is sold out then you won’t have that option.

The abrupt approach – “I’m sorry sir but your breathing is louder than John Barrowman – can you do it quieter? There are lots of movie stars in this and they’re hard enough to hear as it is without your upstaging breath” – may not have the desired effect, and may result in you getting punched, but it’s worth a try.

The other way, and my favourite, is to beat them at their own game. If they breathe loud, you breathe louder. This will upset everyone else in your row, but will at least let them know that you mean business. Simple.

Disclaimer: I realise that people have breathing problems due to medical conditions. And in these cases we should smile politely and deal with the din – at least they’re not doing it on purpose, unlike the old X Factor star sitting behind me at Whitney: Queen of the Night last Sunday at the Savoy. God. The entire dress circle wanted to kill her.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

Audience etiquette: what is acceptable behaviour in a theatre?

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.