July 25, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Theatre etiquette– is it rude to read?

MAY 22ND 2006 (backdated)

One thing I’d like to quickly talk about is my bewilderment at some people’s attitude to theatre–going. Specifically, why go to see a play if you’re not going to watch it?

This was prompted by yesterday’s performance, where one chap– sat in the best seats in the house, I should add– spent the entire of ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ reading the play, looking up occasionally to see if the actors had moved. It couldn’t escape my attention as he was right in my line of sight, and it really irritated me. It’s very difficult to get seats at the RSC sometimes, especially for one–off events like yesterday’s, and so to see someone using up a seat and barely even watching the play strikes me as a bit unfair.

Of course, it’s up to people how they approach the plays. One of my favourite ongoing debates is whether you should take notes in the theatre or not– the argument for is that you should write stuff down while you remember it, the argument against is that a) it’s rude and b) you’re not watching the play properly if you’re writing for half of it. I love the story of Patrick Stewart (I think) performing at The Other Place, and in the middle of the performance stepping into the front row in character, calmly removing a notebook from someone and then going back into the performance. Maybe that’s not a true story, but the point is a good ‘un– that if you’re going to the theatre, surely you’re meant to be watching it?

Aside from that, I’m not sure what you really get out of a play by reading it as it’s being performed. Do you get a better understanding of the text? Is it so you can understand what’s going on? Has a play in fact failed if audience members need to read it to be able to follow it? I have to admit, it’s easier to follow a play that you know than one you don’t, but I’m not sure how reading it during the performance helps, as surely it’s going far to fast to keep up? And if it’s just so you can hear actors speaking what you’re reading, wouldn’t it make more sense (and be far cheaper) to buy an audiobook of the play?

When I go to the theatre, I don’t read or write during the performance, and I don’t appreciate other people doing it as I find it quite distracting– like people texting or eating noisily. People referring to a plot summary is one thing, but someone sitting right in the front row on full display with his nose in a book just seems a bit rude to me. But then, as long as he enjoyed it, I guess he can do what he likes!

Sorry for the aside– as you’ll notice, I’m posting quite a few of my thoughts on theatre–going in general as well as on the Complete Works, but I suppose that’s what a blog’s for!

On another random note, I picked up returns for ‘The Ninja Hamlet’ and ‘Henry VIII‘, so now I’m only waiting for tickets to ‘The Rape Of Lucrece’, ‘The Phoenix And The Turtle’ and ‘One Of These Days’. I’m slowly getting there!

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