Has theatre etiquette gone out the window in a post-lockdown Britain? | Written By Lewis C. Baird

Returning to theatres after a 15-month absence from our lives has been joyous, however, there has been a noticeable restlessness within theatre auditoriums. During the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival back in August 2021, it seemed that eyes were hooked to the stage and silence ensued within audiences, engaged to finally be watching live theatre again. Since August, I’ve attended ten productions in different theatres and I couldn’t help but sense things have changed.

Audiences have been very restless, with people chattering through pinnacle moments of a performance, getting up out their seat repeatedly in an attempt to get drinks or go to the toilet, and the irritating bright light of a mobile phone screen being seen throughout a performance. This type of behaviour of course existed before lockdown however it seems to have gotten worse since theatres have returned, which in hindsight is ridiculous. We had 15 months where theatre-goers championed theatre’s importance within the UK’s culture and now having our beloved industry back we are seeing problems rising within our audiences. Something needs to be done, however it isn’t an easy issue to fix.

Ushers and front of house staff are clearly working hard to stop any type of disturbances during a performance, but it seems to be a losing battle. There is unwarranted hostility from some audience members, who think it is acceptable to get drunk, come to a theatre and totally ruin everyone around them’s night. The mobile phone issue is also just another sign of how addicted society has become to technology through lockdown.

Back in November, I attended a performance of a massive touring production, with my seats costing £45, and the same or even more for the seats around me. Audience members around me were talking throughout, being told to be quiet by other audience members, then by an usher, they then began singing loudly and were eventually asked to leave (quite rightly so) from the theatre. Other audience members got their phones out during the performance, plus kept getting up and down to the toilet throughout.

Since that visit I have had pretty much the same experience in almost every production I have seen.

Theatre etiquette seems to have gone out the window, even more so than back in 2020, therefore something needs to be done in an attempt to raise awareness. Performers and theatre staff have been fighting this losing battle for years but it seems to have gotten more problematic in the last few months. Take a look at some performers tweets from over the years…

May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'Beverley Knight Beverleyknight Ok. If your intention is to come to the theatre, get rat-arsed, make a scene, disrupt the show thus causing a show- stop? My advice is stay your ass at home. People pay to come to the theatre to be entertained, not to endure your foolishness. Done.'
May be an image of text that says 'Philip Joel @PhilipJoel ilipJoe Maybe it's time the pre show announcement is a bit more blunt to the audience "DON'T SING ALONG TO THIS PERFORMANCE AT ANY POINT, LEAVE THE TALENTED PROFESSIONALS TO IT, DON'T RECORD IT, DON'T GET VIOLENT, DON'T BE A TWAT TO FRONT OF HOUSE STAFF. ...Thank you and enjoy the show"'
May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'Jay Parsons @JayWParsons Tonight I'm working FOH in a theatre and it's also the night masks become mandatory again. Tonight was the worst shift I have ever done in this theatre. Members of the public being vile to staff. Help me keep my job, just wear your mask.'

Other notable issues is the grumbling of people having to show proof of vaccinations, lateral flow test results and wearing masks. The theatre industry is still on its knees. During this time, if you’re attending a show, please listen to the announcements, staff and also the performers. Look on Twitter, the theatre community are being very vocal about the implications of a COVID breakout at a theatre or in the cast/crew. Everything that is asked of us is clearly a safety measure, to protect us and everyone in the theatre.

If you’re going to the theatre, just sit and watch the show. That’s what you and the people around you are paying for, why complicate it?

We are asking for letters from you about your experiences in theatres since they re-opened (good or bad). We will feature all letters in a follow-up article. 

Feel free to send emails to contact@theatrescotland.co.uk.