As an actor in the West End, I’m used to a range of audience reactions. But during a performance of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie  this week, in which I play Miss Hedge, one response overstepped the mark.
During a particularly serious scene, a woman in the audience shouted “fuck you” at me in response to what was happening on stage. While I’m grateful she believed in the character so strongly, it felt like a totally inappropriate response.
For that split second it felt like a personal attack. I felt vulnerable. Some of the audience laughed, but most groaned in despair. Me? I was stunned. I waited until the audience had settled and carried on. Shaking. But should I have to tolerate that? Is that not abusive? I’m just an actor after all. Once off stage, my director and colleagues congratulated me on how I dealt with it, but I don’t think It should’ve happened in the first place.
After the show, I signed autographs and posed for pictures with some of the audience and they all mentioned the woman in question. Some apologised on her behalf. Some said it was out of order. Then I met some people who were sat behind her. They told me she was disruptive, even before her outburst, and was on her phone during the show and talking loudly to her friends.
I wrote how I felt on Twitter to remind the woman she was not at home in front of her TV, but at a live show, and posted a picture of some theatre etiquette rules about loud inappropriate reactions. By the way, this does not include gasping at shocking scenes, crying, ooh-ing and ah-ing – these are normal human reactions. Loudly swearing at the performers is not.
There was a big response. For the most part, people agreed it was inappropriate to swear at the actors. But a few said I was wrong. and that people shouldn’t be prevented from calling out – that it would alienate some from the theatre, fearing they may act inappropriately.
Would you stand up in your office, and shout swear words across the room at a work colleague?
To those people, ask yourself this: would you do it in your workplace? Would you stand up in your office, and shout swear words across the room at a work colleague? I doubt it.
Theatre etiquette is important. Or maybe we should call it theatre respect. I’m from a working class background and this was drummed into me when I was growing up. It’s simple: don’t talk during the performance, don’t use your phone, don’t text your mates and don’t call out unless it’s an audience participation show.
Respect the performers and the audience around you. Why would those simple acts stop people coming to the theatre? I’m a huge believer in getting as many people to theatre as possible.
Not once in 23 years of performing on stage has anyone ever shouted something like this at me during a show. Some on Twitter suggested the woman in question had learning difficulties, which of course would be different. From what I was told by audience members around her she didn’t – she was just rude.
It all boils down to manners and respect. I wouldn’t go into someone’s workplace, be it a bank, a supermarket or an office, and swear loudly at the staff. So please don’t do it in the theatre. Call it what you want – I call it theatre respect. It is important.