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The Green Room: Should food and drink be banned from theatre auditoriums?

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

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances

Charlotte Osmand is in her 30s and has worked as a stage manager on and off the book in venues across the UK, as well as in event management

[1]

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

Ros Clifford, 30, is currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

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

Vivian Yes. I suppose I would like food to be banned. There is still the ‘acceptable notion’ of bringing a big bag of sweets in. I’m not sure how that ever was okay.

Peter I have no problem with drink.

Ros Drink yes, food no.

Beryl Yes, food is the issue – or rather food packaging.

Peter I’ve been to a couple of long shows recently when a bottle of water was essential.

Beryl Indeed, you would never get away with banning it, nor should you.

Charlotte I agree with you, Peter. But food shouldn’t be allowed unless it’s an outdoor theatre.

Peter Food is generally a no-no, I think. It seems to be more of a cinema problem – but I don’t go to big musicals.

Beryl I was in a small-space show recently and was shocked at the lack of consideration shown by audience members crunching and rattling bags.

Ros I’m constantly flabbergasted by the amount of food I see and hear consumed when I go to see shows – and when I’m working.

Peter It also depends on the show. Panto is an exception to everything.

JonAre we talking about not selling food or frisking people on the way into the auditorium?

Charlotte I suppose you can’t really frisk people but I’ve been in small fringe venues when people have rustled away and set out what seemed to be a whole banquet on the front of the stage.

JonI also mentioned drink because I once worked with an actor who had a big moment ruined by some clinking ice. She said she was going to ask the bar staff not to put ice in the drinks. I thought: ‘Good luck with that,’ but they actually did it.

Peter When John Harrison was running the Leeds Playhouse years ago, he banned the shop from selling noisy items.

JonDid it work?

Peter Of course it didn’t stop people bringing their own noisy stuff, but it reduced it.

Beryl It is common sense, isn’t it?

Ros I don’t think theatres are helping. Most venues I’ve been to lately seem to sell bags and noisy containers of food.

JonI’ve seen ushers take away food that punters had bought in the theatre, which seems to send a very mixed message.

Ros You can’t stop people from bringing their own food in, I suppose, but venues can help reduce the problem.

Beryl It bugs me in the cinema, let alone live performance. Theatres should not sell noisy snacks.

Nica Burns: ‘Theatre must accommodate people who want to eat snacks’ [2]

Charlotte That’s half the problem – if theatres didn’t sell items such as sweets in individual wrappers, that would certainly help.

JonMaybe punters should get used to eating marshmallows from felt bags.

Ros I’d never eat during a show. Surely people can hang on for an hour or so before eating.

Peter I’ve been faced with trying to unwrap a cough lozenge quietly.

Ros I think we’ve all been there, Peter.

Beryl I’d rather hear a tummy rumbling than sweet wrappers or crisp bags.

JonCough lozenges, inhalers, tissues – they’re all going to be needed at some point I think.

Beryl Although for open-air shows it’s fine – part of the whole thing, isn’t it?

JonSome of these things are more annoying for fellow punters than for those of us working on a show, too. All the lights from phones just make me roll my eyes when I’m on stage but if I’m sitting next to it, I find it very irritating.

Vivian I find it increasingly distracting the more I work. Not less. I don’t see how anyone can get used to it. It irritates me as much as an audience member as a performer.

JonI’ve also been on stage with someone whose iPad pinged in his pocket during an intense Shakespeare scene, but that’s another story.

Ros I can’t imagine how it feels for you performers on stage. It winds me up enough from prompt corner or the operating box.

JonSometimes what’s distracting isn’t the rustling itself, it’s my own irritation at the rustling that trips me up.

Ros I can understand that.

Charlotte I’ve seen that happen front of house, too – audience members getting increasingly irritated with others around them, which becomes even more distracting.

Beryl Someone got so irritated with a fellow audience member that they punched them in the Lyttelton.

JonOuch! Right in the Lyttelton…

Ros On my last job I was in an op box above the audience and was absolutely fascinated watching them every night.

Peter I was in a show recently where the curtain went up on a stage in blackout. Every night I looked out in to the auditorium and saw a fairyland of mobile phone lights.

Beryl I hate that we have to ask this question. It smacks of how selfish we are culturally – inconsiderate and lacking in common sense.

Vivian I wonder if it’s a hangover from vaudeville and music hall’s relaxed audiences. If so, wouldn’t it be an old-fashioned habit, rather than a current one?

Jon I think mid to late-20th-century audiences were literally the quietest in the history of theatre, and now old habits are reappearing.

Peter I bet Shakespeare didn’t ban food or chat – or copulation.