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Green Room: Is audience behaviour getting worse?

Audience behaviour: Audiences are increasingly using mobile phones once the curtain is up. Photo: Shutterstock Audiences are increasingly using mobile phones once the curtain is up. Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​


Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and film

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays


Jon It seems as if there’s a new story every week about someone texting or yelling or eating noisy food or something, or, if not that, an actor yelling at someone from the stage…

Beryl I don’t think audiences are getting worse, though.

Peter I haven’t noticed it, but I mainly do straight theatre. Musical theatre colleagues tell me it’s much worse. People trying to get on to the stage, things like that.

Jon Trying to get on the stage?

Peter Big musicals often work hard at geeing the audience up and sometimes it gets out of hand. I’ve heard of fights in the auditorium too.

Beryl Maybe they need to assess their geeing.

Peter Burlesque artists have told me of being groped by the audience, but I suspect that’s nothing new.

Albert There is less respect for the playing space. There are lots of fringe theatres where you enter and can hike over the stage and play with the props on the way to your seat. There was that guy who plugged his phone in on the set of a Broadway show to charge it.

Jon It was Hand to God. And of course it wasn’t a practical socket anyway.

Peter People are certainly checking mobile phones during shows.

Jon I was at London’s National Theatre recently and there was a family watching Pinocchio who had a portion of chips each. It was quite well handled – the house manager took the chips away but said they could have fresh portions at the interval.

Beryl Some people are a bit thick, aren’t they? Chips?

Peter Theatres make a lot of money on refreshments and they are loath to discourage eaters.

Albert They hate not having intervals either, even though they’re an excuse for people to come back late.

Beryl In India they have picnics, but you get used to it.

Albert Cinema audiences can be truly terrifying and heaven forfend you should ask people to shut up.

Beryl It’s worse in the cinema.

Peter Yes, it’s more annoying for the audience than the performers.

John I always try to go to the cinema midweek, at the end of the run, because of other people. I don’t even like going to the movies with my girlfriend.

Jon Is ‘cinema behaviour’ spilling into theatres?

Jenny I had my first experience of someone’s phone ringing and them answering it and attempting a conversation at the theatre last week. She was mid-conversation when everyone around her, except her husband, shouted at her and told her to get off her phone. She had no idea why it was such a problem. It was unbelievable.

Peter There’s the famous story of someone answering his phone and saying, “I’m sorry I can’t talk. I’m at the theatre… No, not very.”

John Is that worse than someone repeatedly ignoring their phone going off in their bag? I had that for an entire show once.

Albert That’s bad but also too many people now keep their phones on. Lights shining out in the darkened abyss of the stalls.

Jon I did a show at the Lyttelton once where the whole cast was on stage at the beginning of the second half. As the iron opened you’d see lights all over the auditorium from phones and tablets and only about half of them would be switched off when the show restarted.

Jenny I hate this idea of having tweet seats. Has that disappeared now?

Jon Tweet seats. I’d forgotten those. I think/hope they’ve died a death.

Jenny There was talk of having a section of the audience reserved for people who wanted to tweet about their enjoyment of the show while watching it… horrid.

Jon On the other hand, every so often there are campaigns about ‘proper’ audience behaviour and they’re always so joyless and formal and excluding. The kind of people who think everyone should be in black tie.

Albert Engaging with the audience, asides, interaction, knowing looks when appropriate – they’re all great and make it live.

Peter I’ve been heckled in shows and that’s fun. It shows the audience is engaged.

Jon Fun in some shows – less fun in Ibsen…

Albert I think Ibsen might benefit from some knowing winks.

Jenny We had an overly rowdy hen do in a show I did a few years back. They were removed by the management and the police were called. The police arrived in riot vans.

Jon A friend of mine who was in The Full Monty musical told me he used to dread Saturday afternoons because hen dos would always heckle the man-on-man kiss. People shouted “ugh” as they moved towards each other during the slow fade.

Albert We had somebody dying at a matinee of West Side Story, but I’m not sure that’s bad behaviour, just ill health.

Jon I was in a production of King Lear where an audience member injured himself taking his seat at the end of the interval. We ended up starting the second half at 10.30pm, in front of the hardy souls who’d watched a 90-minute first half and then spent an hour in their seats during the interval. I remember thinking it was a bit off that they hadn’t kept the bar open for the end of the show.

If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email greenroom@thestage.co.uk

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