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Editor’s View: UK shows are world-class, but theatregoers deserve better from venues

Nica Burns, Nimax chief executive Nica Burns, Nimax chief executive
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Those of us who work in and around theatre like to tell ourselves “the play’s the thing”. But, increasingly, I’m starting to wonder whether it actually is for most people.

The stories we run in The Stage that tend to garner the greatest interest online are invariably about those things that contribute to the overall experience of going to the theatre, but not what happens on the stage itself.

This is illustrated in this week’s issue by our front page story – Nica Burns announcing that Nimax Theatres is trialling quieter snacks in its venues – and the report of a theatre producer being hit by a fellow theatregoer after asking that person’s partner to stop using a mobile phone.

Nimax Theatres introduces ‘scrunch test’ to combat noisy snacks

The social media response, especially to the Nimax story, has been extraordinary. People get very angry about others eating in theatres – marginally even more angry than they get about mobile phone use.

Last year, when we ran a story in which the producer Richard Jordan complained of a theatre performance at which a near neighbour was eating chicken nuggets, the online readership was so large that it nearly crashed our website.

It would be tempting to pass all this off as inconsequential, but actually there’s a nugget (ahem) of something important here: audiences care about the experience of going to the theatre as much as the show itself.

This is why when people talk about the wonderful new Bridge Theatre (nominated for theatre building of the year in The Stage Awards) the first thing they will always tell you about is the madeleines that they serve in the interval – not the opening show Young Marx, nor the innovative, flexible auditorium.

When staging productions, British theatre is a global market leader – we excel in terms of performers, creative teams, technical expertise. But I’m not sure the same can always be said for the way we package the overall experience of going to the theatre. Many organisations still have some way to go.

Few theatres offer the atmosphere or seating of a Curzon cinema, the dining options of the Royal Albert Hall or the merchandising operations of the world’s greatest sporting arenas. Even on basic issues such as ease of entry and egress, theatre falls well behind many other leisure pursuits. Increasingly, these are theatre’s competitors and it needs to keep up. The play is not the only thing.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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