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Andrzej Lukowski: Sleep no more – confessions of a matinee napper

For critics, it’s always going to be seen as sloppy to sleep at the theatre. Photo: Shutterstock For critics, it’s always going to be seen as sloppy to sleep at the theatre. Photo: Shutterstock
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And so it happened, the day I had been dreading since becoming a critic: somebody finally sleep shamed me at the theatre.

I had gone to review a matinee show and during the first half I experienced what might be described as a few minutes struggling to stay awake.

We could have a long semantic discussion about whether or not I was actually asleep. For what it’s worth I would contend that I have only fallen asleep – in the classic sense – once at the theatre, while heavily jetlagged, in a ropey West End film adaptation. Though that show then brought me yelping to full consciousness through the copious and unexpected amounts of pyrotechnics in its second half. Something for producers to note…

But certainly, in this more recent example I was fighting for consciousness in a way that was a) fairly obvious and b) stopped me taking in much of a five-minute chunk of the show.

This was noticed by the producer, who relayed the fact they’d noticed to me, via the show’s PR. My immediate reaction was my default reaction to almost every given situation: shame. Catholic-grade shame. Polish Catholic-grade shame.

And it went deeper than embarrassment about a single show: the truth is that this was not my first time dozing – it happens in almost all matinees, for some reason.

Is this unprofessional? Disrespectful?

It’s definitely not ideal, but the brutal truth is that it happens to pretty much everyone. Nodding off has little bearing on the quality of the show, and there’s not much you can do about it.

I wish deeply that it didn’t happen to me, but it does, and I’m sure it’s never affected my judgement. The other day I could have hugged another critic who confessed that he was susceptible to the odd matinee doze too.

So vindicated did I feel, that I actually started getting irate wondering what the producer’s purpose in getting in touch had actually been – were they going to try and use it against me if I didn’t give them a nice enough review?

Nothing was said and of course I can understand why they may have found it a bit dispiriting. It’s not a great look, and critics are hardly always desperately understanding themselves – I still remember the righteous tutting directed at the prominent hack whose snores disrupted the final seconds of Abi Morgan’s The Mistress Contract at the Royal Court.

There but for the grace of an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep goes any of us, but it’s always going to be seen as sloppy to sleep. There is no chance I will ever feel great about dozing in the theatre. But now that I’ve been officially called out it is a relief to at least admit it happens.

A touch of the head wobbles is an occasional part of the experience of going to the theatre – and as most readers of The Stage are presumably aware, not everything that happens in theatre is good.

This is unlikely to be of great consolation to artists who catch reviewers having a micro-nap, but I leave them with the story of a friend of mine who made friends with the comedian Daniel Kitson after he told her off for sleeping in his show. “Yes”, she replied, “but every time I woke up I was so happy.”

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