Nikolai Foster: Theatremakers must do more to engage badly behaved audiences

Nikolai Foster. Photo: John Hunter Nikolai Foster. Photo: John Hunter
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Curve artistic director Nikolai Foster has urged theatre creators to do more to combat bad audience behaviour, claiming good performances will “silence people”.

The director also urged theatre companies to work more collaboratively with audiences who are not traditional theatregoers, and to make them feel part of the theatre community.

His comments follow those made by producer Richard Jordan, who recently criticised the behaviour of audiences at a performance of Doctor Faustus in the West End.

Foster said that the work presented to audiences should be interesting and engaging enough to hold their attention, and admitted he had had to change some parts of his own shows to hold people’s attention more.

Foster told The Stage: “Great theatre will silence people. I always think young people’s theatre is a great barometer. When we did The Witches last year, they were transfixed from the get-go. Six hundred rowdy schoolkids on a day out want to piss around, eat sweets and mess around, but you know that if they put their sweets down and their phones down, they are engaging with the story and then you are doing something right.”

He added: “There was a moment in The Witches when they started to talk and get a bit agitated, and I thought: ‘There is something not right there, something I need to fix.’ And sure enough, a few performances later there was no chatting or messing around in that bit.”

Foster said that poor theatre etiquette might be down to audiences “not engaging with the work”.

“As creators of work, if we are creating compelling, engaging and collaborative theatre, then you are going to have an audience who are rapt and silenced,” he said.

Foster, who was speaking to The Stage at the opening night of his production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the West End, also said not all theatre audiences are the “English well-to-do”. He claimed more needed to be done to engage diverse audiences.

“Some come from communities and backgrounds where they want to respond vocally to something. They engage in a much more collaborative and vocal way… The more we engage with a diverse audience, and the more we get people who are representative of our communities and society into theatre, then we are going to have to find new ways to communicate and collaborate with them, from the stage, in the way we approach the work,” he said.