Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Hari Bairn is in his 20s and since graduating from drama school has worked in the West End, Off-West End and on a number of tours
Emily Cohen is in her 20s and works in theatre and TV as well as running her own theatre company. She is an associate member of a national company
Albert Parker is in his 60s and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV
John Pepper is 32 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film
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 is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television
Jon Do you think more restrictions should be placed on audience behaviour?
Emily No way.
Peter A friend described a performance where the upper circle could see a couple having sex in a box.
Beryl Sex in the theatre is not new, ahem.
Jon There’s an endless stream of social media complaints from actors about people filming the show, joining in and so on.
Albert People have different behavioural codes these days. It’s not just audiences.
Beryl Filming should be stopped for sure.
Peter That’s the perennial mobile phone problem for you.
Albert I’m not sure how you restrict behaviour without restricting reactions. It’s like the schools’ matinee where the teacher has told all the students to shut up because they are in a theatre. It’s death to play to.
Beryl Also, it’s tricky to impose restrictions on relaxed performances and I wouldn’t want them to stop.
Peter Agreed, Albert. Of course, Shakespeare’s audience didn’t sit quietly.
Albert Exactly. The groundlings were the heart of the theatre. And in Restoration times, the aristocracy were busy fiddling with each other in boxes at the side of the stage. Nothing new really.
John I don’t care how audiences behaved 400 years ago, I want to watch the damn play. Is there anything worse than going to the theatre, having taken out a mortgage on your house for the ticket, and then you can’t focus on the show because of other audience members?
Emily Kids can be the best audiences because they get so excited and start screaming at the scary bits. But I think people shouting out words, and potentially causing offence, is completely different to that.
Jon I don’t think it’s new, it’s just there are new annoying things to deal with. When I was an usher in the Jurassic era, we didn’t need to deal with people filming or WhatsApping their way through a show because the technology didn’t exist.
Beryl The West End is the worst. You pay a premium to sit among noisy arseholes who talk, share rattling sweets and ruin the experience for everyone.
Hari I think there’s a danger that if audiences are told to sit in silence when their instinct is to react, it will put them off ever coming back.
Jon Yep, I think that’s the issue, Hari.
Emily Yeah absolutely – I think there’s this unspoken rule in theatre, which doesn’t make it very accessible.
Albert Like I said, it happens on trains with people being loud and rude and it happens in restaurants. It’s behavioural and doesn’t just happen in the theatre.
John Of course we’re not saying people should sit in silence. We just want them to focus on the play rather than chatting to the friend sat next to them.
Jon So how do we say: “Theatre is for everyone, come in, be engaged, but also…silence in our cathedral”?
Beryl Come in and shut up.
John Old people are the worst. There, I said it.
Peter I’m not bad.
John Falling asleep, asking what’s going on, sweets rustling, getting up for the toilet…
Emily There’s a different issue with audiences for immersive stuff, right?
Jon Emily, I think you’re right. An audience member groping an actor is obviously on a different scale to someone singing along with Les Mis.
Beryl I would punch said audience member where it hurt.
Emily I took my mum to see Fiddler on the Roof and she was singing along to all of it. It was so cute.
Peter I’ve been in a show where I had to engage with members of the audience. Some of them were terrified.
Jon Peter, I sometimes wake up in the night in a cold sweat worrying that one day my time will come and someone will ask me to do direct address.
Albert I’ve stopped a show and told someone to shut up but it was years ago. So it’s not new.
Beryl Perennial issue.
John My great gran used to sit in the front row of all the amateur dramatic musicals and sing all the songs a bar ahead of what was on stage.
Beryl We can’t control human behaviour. It’s all part of the live experience.
Albert Direct address usually shuts them up.
John For all the annoying theatre audience stuff, it just comes down to respect, doesn’t it? Having respect for audience members and the people on stage.
Peter I would say respect for fellow audience members is actually more important than respect for actors.
Jon Maybe theatres should sell less or food that can be eaten quietly? No ice in drinks? I don’t think there’s anything to be done about phones, although some music gigs don’t let people in with phones now.
Beryl I don’t understand – why sell sweets in wrappers front of house?
John No food. Eat before you come – it’s not a bloody restaurant. You can survive for an hour without stuffing your face surely?
Beryl Yeah, just finish your dinner before you get there.
Emily But then it becomes this elitist thing, right? If you don’t know the rules and expectations and you just want to have your Mars bar.
Albert I’ve sat though many a production that would have been enlivened by a Big Mac and fries during Act I.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org