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Cumberbatch inspires campaign to stamp out phone use in theatres

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson
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A campaign inspired by Benedict Cumberbatch that is aimed at tackling the use of mobile phones in the theatre has been launched.

The Cumberphone Campaign takes its name from Cumberbatch, who recently urged audiences coming to see him in Hamlet at the Barbican in London not to film him while on stage.

It is described as an “alliance of performers and theatre-lovers” and will later this month unveil a manifesto, which will put forward a set of proposals about how to prevent phones being used during performances. There will be a consultation phase to enable people to input their own ideas.

Spokesman David Fletcher said the campaign was not about etiquette but finding and implementing “creative and credible solutions”.

He said the manifesto, to be launched on October 10, would include “bold proposals – some theatrical and some technological”.

“One size won’t fit all, but we certainly need a unified approach – that’s key,” he said.

The campaign is urging actors in West End shows to record short videos featuring them altering well-known songs and scenes to address the issue of phone use in theatres.

Fletcher added that having performers engage directly with audiences would help reduce the number of phones used in the theatre.

“You’re probably more likely to turn your phone off if you’re texted some time before a show with a link to a video of its leading stars asking you to, rather than being blared at by a faceless PA system moments before curtain up,” he said.

The campaign also plans to launch an awards ceremony, called the Cumbies, to honour the best videos, with categories named after well-known performers who have challenged mobile phone users in the theatre, including Patti LuPone.

Fletcher said the group behind the campaign wanted to remain anonymous, claiming “personalising things can be fraught with boobytraps”. He added that it was aiming to get the support of industry bodies including Ambassador Theatre Group and Equity.

Earlier this month, a backstage theatre worker left his job with Really Useful Theatres after criticising the behaviour of Cumberbatch fans on Twitter.

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