Brian is a friend and colleague who is a keen theatregoer and has recently started reviewing.
His contributions to this blog will revolve around reminiscing on times gone by in theatre.
#Tweeting it – Brian blogs in 140 characters
Changing theatre attitudes – people eating, sleeping, talking, turning up late. Sure you wouldn’t fancy a night in front of TV the instead?
There was a time……when going to the theatre was an event, an occasion to savour and everyone dressed to impress, but there’s now been a seismic shift in the way which many people dress and behave. Back in the day, my parents would drag me kicking and screaming to the theatre. As a 10-year-old, I didn’t see the point of dressing up, but their pre-show ritual was always the same. Mum would paint her nails, get her best jewellery out and put her favourite frock on. Dad would polish his shoes, iron a shirt and put his only suit on. It all seemed a trial to me, but now I realise what an important lesson they taught me. Going out? Then get dress up! Send a message out! And that was exactly what people did. Film stars had their red carpet, we had the theatre. It was our chance to glimpse at how the other half might have lived.
But, fast forward 40 years and what have we got? Jeans, t-shirts, combats, trainers, tourists in fluorescent jackets with rucksacks, catching the Wednesday matinée of the Mousetrap, ’Hey Martha we’ve got another box to tick before we fly back home.” Don’t call me xenophobic, but why can’t they leave a bit more time and pick their luggage up from the hotel afterwards? Sure, I’ve been guilty of the grunge look occasionally but only because no one else seems to bother anymore, but that doesn’t make it right. Theatres are itching to force the issue, but they fear a stringent dress code will scare the punters off and then the game’s up. Or is it? I think theatres should call our bluff, it won’t kill us. I wouldn’t suggest we go down the Royal Opera House route of ball gowns and dinner jackets, but just ask for suits and dresses or something smart to be worn. People would accept it.
Allow me to briefly charge off at a tangent here; through a girlfriend, I managed to get a ticket for Robbie Williams ‘swing while you’re winning’, a one-off gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. It was strictly black tie and if you weren’t dressed appropriately you didn’t get in. Nobody baulked at the idea of formal dress. We really pushed the boat out that night and travelled by white stretch limo. The dress code just felt right. Ok, not strictly theatre but the principle still holds good.
There is of course a flip side to my argument. Do theatres have any right to dictate how we dress? No, absolutely not, we have liberty to dress how we please. Office workers could argue that they wear a suit during the day, why should they have to wear one in the evening? I can’t reasonably argue against this because they do have a point. The question dear readers is whether culture = formality? Can we only offer culture with strings attached? Is it fair to make people so uncomfortable they feel like the proverbial dog’s dinner? It might just boil down to personal style, if you feel good in threads then you’ll look good and you won’t mind dressing up. To others, it’s a complete anathema and they would only wear a suit for major life events. It’s interesting to note that many pubs in the West End, bar customers in jeans and football shirts. Ok, this might be more about excluding warring football fans, but the West End is trying to set a standard that makes London the place to be. Maybe there’s a compromise here? What about restricting casual wear to matinees and Sunday performances. Or, how about making casual wear available for discounted tickets only? As always, it’s about degree and perspective.
There was a time….when the ‘fourth wall’ in theatre was an imaginary wall covering the front of the stage, well now the fourth wall has been replaced by a virtual plasma screen and people will use this ‘screen’ to eat, sleep and talk their way through a performance. They might as well be at home watching TV. I’ve sat next to people eating peanuts, crisps and meat pies, peanuts being the worst; 10 minutes working their way through a bag of KP and then another 20 minutes sucking their gums. I saw the Official Tribute to the Blues Brothers once, a show big on audience participation and we were jumping up every five minutes. I can’t describe the terror etched on the face of a woman who tipped an open bag of Revels into the aisle and then got on her hands and knees to retrieve them. One gentleman slept through most of Sweeney Todd. It was only when he started snoring that someone actually woke him up. Even more annoying is incessant chatter, about Mark’s operation, Joanne’s boyfriend, the price of diesel, the colour scheme for the nursery – come on guys there is a time and place for everything surely? And yet nobody complains. We’re strangled by that wonderful British trait of tolerance – dirty looks and the odd tut is about as bad as it gets.
Then there are some who treat the theatre as a night out at the pub. I saw the Dame Edna Everage experience at the Strand Theatre. We were in the back row of the upper circle, commonly known as the angels and also the cheapest seats in the house. Dame Edna quickly dubbed us “the paups”. Problem was if you leaned forward you had to hold onto the back of your seat – or else you’d fall out. One guy, who’d been severely imbibing forgot to do this and fell out and somersaulted down two rows landing in a lady’s lap. I did wonder whether Dame Edna, ever the anarchist, planted the drunken angel for effect? I later saw him being ripped to shreds by his wife in the foyer, so I doubt whether the subterfuge would have lasted that long….
(side note – see what Dame Edna expects from her audience at http://www.express.co.uk/news/showbiz/415344/Dame-Edna-Everage-expects-the-best-for-her-final-stage-tour)
“I don’t want to stand on that stage and see dirty sneakers, horrible jeans with holes in the knees and T-shirts.”
My final rant is reserved for ‘Mr Disturbance’, you know the one who always arrives late, wants to leave early and wants to get to the bar 5 minutes before the interval? Of course 5 minutes before the interval, you often get the showstopper, the foot-stomper, the 11 O’clock number, the tune you’re going to be whistling on the train home at 11pm – well the number of times I’ve missed that because Mr Disturbance wants to avoid the crush at the bar. Of course he couldn’t pre-order a drink like most sensible people because he was late – he was looking for a parking space wasn’t he? There are words for these people…
So what’s the bottom line here? Go to the theatre, but have some sense of occasion, remember where you are, have a drink, of course, but you want it to be a special night and it will be a great night before, during and after the show! Final shout goes to my parents. They introduced me to the theatre, taught me how to behave, how to dress and gave me my sense of style (if I’ve got any at all!)