Blog: How irritating are today's theatre audiences?

That feeling when performing on stage is like nothing else you will ever experience. Especially when you're in a hit show and you've got a meaty role to challenge you. But what is the experience like for members of the audience in a packed auditorium?

I've lost count of the number of productions I've seen over the years. Some of them frankly dismal and some quite astounding. Being surrounded by hundreds of other eager theatregoers can be as thrilling as the production itself. Yet, if I'm honest, at times the audience does infuriate me.

Look, I'm not talking about a particular type of audience member such as the predictable HooHa Henry found at the Nash. Well, maybe I am but not directly. No, I really do believe audiences are becoming a much more diverse on the whole and as an actor I do genuinely want everyone to get something from a production.

I'm talking about silly, sometimes irrational ticks that just send me completely nuts.

I'm talking about silly, sometimes irrational ticks that just send me completely nuts. The annoying audience habit that gets me every time is the larger than life character sat behind – or worse still, beside me – with a bellowing roar that threatens to pierce the very depths of my ear drum. Not only that, he seems to find everything funny. Not just the key hilarious moments, that I could perhaps deal with. No, I'm talking the lot.

I feel guilty for being cross. Who am I to impede that “passion”? But after the twentieth holler in my lug hole that minute, I find myself glancing aside to see the jolly gentleman has absolutely no idea how exasperating he actually is. He's engrossed in the world before him, and I become increasingly frustrated that he is preventing me from having the same experience.

But at what stage is it acceptable to make your irritation known? Is it acceptable at all? I have friends who would have no qualms at nipping it in the bud in an instant. Embarrassingly, I've been with them when they've done it. I opt for the more subtle approach at a rather obvious and penetrating high point. Placing my finger to my ear, I glance aside and smile so he is well aware his presence is dominating the space. My face says it all: ‘Even though I loathe your very existence right now, even though you're actually injuring me, I'm smiling. This is my polite warning. Now you know.'

No sooner do I turn back to the actors, but the blast beside me goes off again. How?!!! No, seriously how?! He didn't even see what happened on stage!!! Yes, I know, I'm sure he's a lovely bloke, but how can't his wife see (and hear!) that her beloved husband is a charged-up Brian Blessed on speed? And then tell him to reign it in thank you very much? Is that too much to ask?

I love going to the theatre and I think that is why it has touched a nerve.

So – am I alone in this illogical debate? Well, I'm not actually.

Discussing this with a good friend today, he spoke of a similar anguish. He regularly goes to the theatre with a Producer friend of his, now in his seventies, who without fail promptly falls asleep thirty seconds in. Not only that, he isn't even discreet about it – he snores. Loudly.

I remind my friend that going to the theatre can sometimes do that to the best of us, but he affirms that its indeed every time they go. Ah. The upside though, my friend does enjoy having a full on discussion about the production afterwards and is always intrigued as to how his older chum manages to hold his own.

I love going to the theatre and I think that is why it has touched a nerve. Although we absolutely need an audience for the overall exciting experience that the theatre can bring, I can't help but feel some individuals really should show some self-control. After all, we're not interested in their performance.

-Phil Matthews

Ad goes here


  1. My main gripe is audience members who show how much they hate a production. Tuts and eyes rolling. Infuriating. No need for that!

  2. I’m a steward. My gripe is with people who think it is acceptable to stand up and walk out to buy themselves a drink. If your dying for a wee fair enough (just), but if you want a beer, or a bag of crips OR WANT TO KNOW HOW LONG UNTIL THE INTERVAL can you really not wait?

  3. Mobile phones! People don’t take responsibility for them. Come on! If you know you have booked yourself out to go to the theatre or watch a movie, doesn’t it stand to reason that you WILL NOT be available to talk on your mobile during this time?!? Switch it off or put it on vibrate. Not being on call for that 1.5 or 3 hours will not kill you and the world won’t end because you didn’t pick up a call immediately.
    Even worse, a mobile phone that rings and rings and rings…. Just man up, admit you forgot to switch it off and just switch it off immediately! Don’t let it keep ringing until voicemail picks it up and then it rings you back to say you have voicemail! Grrrr!!!!
    While I’m ranting, how about candy wrappers. Opening it s-l-o-w-l-y will not make it less noisy! If anything, it prolongs the irritation. So like a band-aid, just get it done and over with quickly!

  4. Those who seem unable to sit through a play without bringing alcohol in with them, made worse with ice cubes which they rattle arround.

Leave a Reply