Nick Ahad: A plea for polite and respectful behaviour by theatre audiences

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I don’t really want to outline the details here but over the past year I have got to know a couple of four-year-olds. At first it was... tricky, to say the least.

I’m a childless, single, 37-year-old man who has a room in his house dedicated to a big TV and a framed, signed poster of Michael Jordan. I think the correct term is arrested development.

Despite my – some may say immature, I say youthful – outlook, I didn’t really know how to relate to these youngsters. I reckon if you have your own kids you spend time with them and learn how to cope and communicate as they grow with you, but imagine a four-year-old just landing in your life. If you have no experience with them, children can be a bit scary. Then I realised I had a perfect ‘in’ with these kids. I love theatre and theatre is just stories and storytelling – and what child doesn’t like stories?

So I started going to the theatre with them (a responsible adult experienced with kids came along – I’m not crazy). And it’s lovely.

I’ve seen shows like Father Christmas and James and the Giant Peach at West Yorkshire Playhouse with them and Wind in the Willows and Puss in Boots at York Theatre Royal.

The last of these, which I reviewed in The Yorkshire Post last week, is the inspiration behind this week’s column.

The responsible adult came with me to York Theatre Royal, just after Christmas, to see the delightful Puss in Boots. Theatre snacks of a small plastic box of marshmallows were handed out. The responsible adult had thought it through – the two four year olds might want a snack during the show, but didn’t want to disturb the people around them.

No such thoughts had occurred to the grandmother of of a little girl sitting behind us. This woman spoke to her grand-daughter and to the woman next to her, incessantly. I eventually turned round and gave her a look as though to say “Hi, I’m actually here to watch and hear the play, as opposed to you”.

Nothing. The inane, banal, incessant chatter continued.

I have written about manners in the theatre here before and it’s a subject I try not to write about too much. The last time I complained about bad manners in the theatre some of my friends in the theatre world criticised me for displaying the attitude of a “snob”.

There’s nothing snobbish about good manners.

The four-year-olds I’ve taken to the theatre over the past year have learnt that sitting quietly and watching what’s in front of you is simply appropriate, considerate and respectful behaviour – respectful to the performers on stage (yes, they can hear you – it’s live).

It’s also respectful to the people around you who have paid to watch the show and not to listen to you babble, rustle sweet wrappers, or just generally behave in a manner that is going to ruin the enjoyment of the show.