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English National Opera imposes ‘humiliating’ food and drink ban on musical theatre audiences

The London Coliseum, home of English National Opera. Photo: Mike Peel The London Coliseum, home of English National Opera. Photo: Mike Peel
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English National Opera is banning musical theatre audiences from bringing food and drink into the London Coliseum because patrons have been “picnicking” and “replacing water with gin and vodka”.

The ban, which also applies to rock and pop concert audiences, is not imposed on opera, dance, cinema and classical performance patrons, who are permitted to bring soft drinks and confectionery into the theatre.

English National Opera began a “soft introduction” of the policy during Carousel in April 2017, and had fully implemented it by the start of Bat Out of Hell in June 2017.

Head of commercial operations at ENO, Gary England, said the policy had been implemented following a consultation, which found a minority of musical theatre audience members were bringing gin and vodka into the venue. Opera and dance did not experience this, he said.

England told The Stage: “There is a small minority of audiences that have been known to replace water with gin or vodka and it has caused problems. We did a consultation and this was the case for musical theatre audiences.”

When asked about the blanket ban on food, England added: “We have catering partners within the building that sell food and drink.

“People were coming in and picnicking and taking up the spaces where other people have purchased food.”

One person who contacted The Stage claiming to be a front-of-house worker at the London Coliseum, which is home to ENO, said they found the procedure “disgusting and humiliating” and questioned whether it demonstrated elitism against musical theatre.

The front-of-house member said: “We have recently re-implemented a scheme in which we are forced to make the public bin any food or drink before entering the premises – this includes packets of sweets and unopened bottles of water.

“This means in the height of summer, patrons are asked to chuck away unopened bottles of water and are expected to refill it with tap water inside, or purchase something else.”

They added: “Myself and other front of house find it a disgusting and humiliating procedure, but we are told this is standard practice.”

A spokeswoman for ENO said: “It certainly doesn’t represent any elitism towards music theatre, but puts us in line with other venues presenting similar work. Our policies can be found on our website – this isn’t a recent addition.”

She added: “With the extremely wide range of work presented at the theatre, we’ve adopted these tailored security measures that are in line with different performance venues in the West End and Greater London.”

West End Theatres have differing food and drink policies, with Nedelander-owned theatres, which include the Adelphi, banning hot food but allowing cold food and soft drinks, while Really Useful Theatres, which owns venues including the Palladium, does not allow any food or drink to be brought into its venues.

Debate around food in theatres and audience behaviour has been widespread in the industry, with West End theatre operator Nimax introducing a “scrunch test” in a bid to clamp down on noisy snacks.

Nimax Theatres introduces ‘scrunch test’ to combat noisy snacks

In January this year, Venue Cymru in Wales said it was forced to ramp up security following unruly behaviour from drunk audience members at some high-profile touring productions.

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