Red Ladder producer on their new show and audience behaviour

As Red Ladder’s latest show heads out on tour, producer Chris Lloyd talks to Nick Ahad about audiences and theatre etiquette.

Wrongsemble's The Not So Ugly Sisters, a co-production with Red Ladder and Leeds Playhouse goes on tour next month. Picture Lian Furness
Wrongsemble's The Not So Ugly Sisters, a co-production with Red Ladder and Leeds Playhouse goes on tour next month. Picture Lian Furness

There is a brilliant academic called Dr Kirsty Sedgman who has written a book called The Reasonable Audience in which she examines what that is and what it definitely isn’t.

Her book is somewhat longer than the 900-and-change words I have here to explore the subject, so I may be making some broader brush strokes than Dr Sedgman uses in her work.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

For example, I would and do argue that to call the ‘problem’

Wrongsemble's The Not So Ugly Sisters, a co-production with Red Ladder and Leeds Playhouse goes on tour next month. Picture Lian Furness

of some audience behaviour a class issue is in itself deeply classist – pointing to the notion that the working classes might behave inappropriately in a theatre setting because they

are unused to the milieu

doesn’t take into account the

fact that when you grow up

Gipton Working Mens Club, one of Red Ladder's non-traditional theatre space tour venues. Picture: Ant Robling

poor, good manners are something you can still afford – I would know.

The argument about ‘appropriate’ behaviour among audiences is having its usual seemingly at least twice-a-year runout.

It’s a subject that will, one assumes, continue to raise its head as long as strangers continue to gather in the dark and watch theatre (or films, or gigs – bad behaviour is not confined to red curtain venues and performances).

Last month a production of Into the Woods at Belfast’s Lyric had to be stopped at the interval after the cast complained members of the audience were talking and moving around the auditorium.

Red Ladder producer Chris Lloyd.

A couple of months ago Beverley Knight, who is starring in the

West End production of The Drifters Girl, tweeted after two members of the audience had

to be removed ‘if your intention is to come to the theatre, get (drunk), make a scene, disrupt the show causing a show-stop…stay at home’. In 2015 Patti LuPone, while performing on Broadway, famously snatched an audience member’s mobile when they refused to stop texting during a performance.

Of course the person texting turned out to have a dying relative and had saved up for the tickets which they had had for two years…no, not really. But if that was the situation, wouldn’t that have coloured things somewhat? Rarely is the situation black and white, as Chris Lloyd points out.

The producer of Red Ladder theatre company, Lloyd is right in the thick of this discussion, particularly right now as the company prepares to head out on another tour of non-traditional venues in which it has played since 2014.

“It’s sad if someone gets booted out of a show they have paid to see, but it’s quite sad if you’ve paid sixty quid for a ticket and you have to listen to people sitting next to you in the audience singing the songs you’ve come to hear the cast sing,” he says.

“But then, we took a children’s show on our non-traditional venues circuit a few years ago and when we were at Gipton Working Men’s Club, and there was a performance in the day time where the audience was full of mums.

“They came and put their kids in the middle of the space, then want and sat on banquettes around the room and just chatted the whole way through the performance. I had to make a decision about whether I spoke to them or not and I realised a couple of things.

“First of all, if I had said something I would have to speak to all of them because it was more or less everyone that was talking and that would have caused more disruption than them, but also, we were in their manor. I realised that the people who make the rules are the audience.

“Clearly the behaviour at a rock gig will be different to the behaviour at a classical music concert, but it’s the audience who decide the rules.”

Surely, though, the performers have to be taken into consideration? They could have, after all, heard the murmuring chat all the way through that particular performance Lloyd mentions.

“I’m less worried about artists being hacked off than I am about audiences being hacked off,” he says.

“In that example the cast were quite tired as they had to work quite hard to get through the performance, but the kids that were there loved it and ultimately that was the important thing for us.”

A week on Sunday a Red Ladder co-production gets ready to head into the breach once more as Wrongsemble theatre company’s The Not So Ugly Sisters heads out. Also co-produced by Leeds Playhouse, the production will visit seven venues which are partners of Red Ladder Local,

an initiative launched by Red Ladder Theatre Company to

take high quality performances into non-traditional venues reaching communities that might not otherwise experience theatre.

And that, for Lloyd, is the more important point than the behaviour of the audience: it is reaching new audiences.

“Going to the theatre is risky. You have to buy the tickets, get to theatre, pay for the parking; all this investment before you even get through the door. And then there is the risk of what we are talking about; the etiquette. Audiences might be thinking ‘what if I get something wrong? What if I don’t know where the toilets are?’. By going to the community on their turf, we take away as much of that risk as we possibly can.”

That does of course mean that people will feel at home – and perhaps feel comfortable to behave in ways that might raise eyebrows in a ‘traditional’ theatre.

“We’ll be in their backyard, so they make the rules,” says Lloyd.

The Not So Ugly Sisters on Tour

Wrongsemble’s show The Not So Ugly Sisters is a brand new musical re-telling of Cinderella from the perspective of the ‘Not So’ Ugly Sisters.

The Red Ladder Local Venues are: BITMO’s Gate, Belle Isle; Hawksworth Community Centre, Gipton WMC and Hunslet Rugby League Club, all in Leeds. St John’s Church Hall and Shaw Lane Sports Club in Barnsley, Queens Mill in Castleford and Grove Hall in Pontefract.

The Not So Ugly Sisters tour kicks off on April. For more details about dates and venutes and to book tickets visit www.wrongsemble.com