A Bluffer’s Guide to theatre etiquette

Going to the theatre can be a social minefield. But don’t worry! Listen to our friends at — helping busy people sound smart and funny — for six things every theatregoer should know…

Les Miserables on West End

Theatre is alive, and living things are all prey to metamorphosis. Shakespeare’s auditorium was a place of brawl and broil, where audiences could chat and lob fruit. By the great age of Coward and Rattigan, English theatre had lost its air of loucheness and audiences were dressing up to the nines, standing for the national anthem, and listening for two hours in reverent hush. Nowadays theatres have become less elitist, and they worry less about codes and regulations. You can rock up in flip flops, if you like, but there are still some things you can’t – or at least shouldn’t – do at the theatre.

1. The performance really is about begin

When stage management announces that the show will commence in two minutes, or is about to begin, this isn’t a measurement of real time. Nonetheless, it’s sort of polite to be in your seat by the time your ticket says the show kicks off. They really don’t hold the curtain for you.

2. Open your crinkly sweets beforehand

Sometimes it seems as though West End theatres only sell sweets with the noisiest wrapping. If you really must dose up on sugar while enduring the bleakness of Beckett, do all the crinkly stuff before the lights go down. Also when they ask you turn off your phone, they really mean it.

3. Shut your cakehole

Let’s have a crack at putting this politely. Please, please don’t talk during the performance. Nobody paid to sit in a dark theatre and listen to you. They paid to listen to the actors speak Shakespeare and sing Sondheim. If you can write off the cuff dialogue or lyrics as good as theirs, huzzah. Write a show and perform it. But when in the stalls, shhh. (This rule doesn’t apply if you’re in the groundlings at Shakespeare’s Globe.)

Cats - 6th July 2014

4. Gents queue at the bar while ladies queue at the ladies

Even the most modern theatres have superior ‘throughput facilities’ for male bladders. So when it comes to the interval, it’s only right that blokes get in the drinks while women endure the slow agony of the queue for the loo. In the circumstances it might be wise for ladies to steer clear of diuretics — i.e. lay off the boozer a little — for several hours before the performance.

5. Live dangerously

The fringe needs you too. Go out on a limb and book for plays and playwrights you’ve not heard of in theatres you never knew existed. The performances will be great, because British acting (almost) always is. There’s a high chance you’ll discover something great.

6. Exit, pursued by a stare

All entertainment is hit and miss. If you find yourself stuck watching a play that simply isn’t doing it for you, and you can’t wait to leave, wait anyway. Storming out mid-performance is narcissistic and inconsiderate, and that’s not you, is it? Hold out for the interval, at least.

Wicked the Musical 2015

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