A West End backstage worker of 34 years standing has claimed he has been forced to leave his job with Really Useful Theatres because of a backlash against controversial comments he made on Twitter.
Tim Roberts, who worked on The Phantom of the Opera for the past four years, said that comments he made on his personal Twitter account were used against him by RUT, and claimed this showed that theatre companies were “suppressing free speech and encouraging censorship”.
Roberts, who admits he is outspoken on Twitter, said his problems began when he tweeted about the behaviour of Benedict Cumberbatch fans watching Hamlet at the Barbican. He said that Cumberbatch’s fans did not “understand the concept of theatre”.
When he was confronted on Twitter, he referred to them as “neo-Nazis” and subsequently called the “selfie culture” a “female cancer”. He was accused of being misogynistic.
The backstage worker acknowledged that he had said things he should not have, but claimed a Twitter user had then forwarded them to theatre companies in the West End, with the complaints eventually reaching staff at RUT.
RUT, which has a poster at Her Majesty’s Theatre reminding employees about the public nature of Twitter, then launched two investigations into his comments, which Roberts said the company was right to do. But he added: “I was mass attacked by trolls [abusive Twitter users] and it should then have been the end of the matter.”
However, after the two investigations – during which Roberts was presented with copies of his tweets – he was told he was facing a disciplinary action, which he declined to proceed with. He subsequently left his job, and said he had been made to feel like he had “committed a crime”.
“I could have gone [to the disciplinary] but I quit over the way this was handled,” he said, adding: “I’m passionate about the freedom of speech and I’ve often tweeted that certain West End theatre companies are suppressing or attempting to suppress social media.”
Roberts said he signed a memorandum from RUT two weeks earlier that made it clear employees must not use social media in a way that brings the company into disrepute.
However, he claimed the memo implied such tweets should not be sent during work time, and said: “There is no evidence I damaged the brand. It’s a ridiculous suggestion.”
He added: “At best, I deserved a telling off, but not the scrutiny they put me under… As a show worker we’re not paid enough to stick to the corporate bible. They certainly have no right to own my spare time.”
RUT declined to comment.