I FOUND myself in the grip of a desperate urge while on a recent assignment. Fortunately I resisted the temptation to clout someone round the back of the head while reviewing John Godber’s latest production at Wakefield Theatre.
Had I given in to temptation, I would have found it very easy to justify my actions: I was surrounded by people who appeared oblivious to the fact that unwrapping sweets, rustling crisp packets and noisily consuming snacks in a theatre is a desperately selfish act.
And, because I have a non-violent outlet for such frustrations, I took to Twitter to make my feelings known: “Seriously, theatres, stop selling sweets in wrappers. And audiences – maybe try sit for two hours without grazing? Maybe? Give me strength..”
When I had driven home, I then logged back into cyberspace. My Twitter message had been “re-tweeted” (copied and sent out – and therefore approved) by 11 people, and a dancer, a director, an actor, a public review website, several audience members and others (including John Godber himself) had responded directly.
All were tweeting in agreement that sweet consumption in a theatre production ought to be verboten. My favourite response was from actor Jennifer Tan, who suggested the only sweets that should be made available in theatres are “marshmallows in a velvet bag”. Clearly, I had hit a nerve. My utter despair at the lack of consideration for others, a despair that increasingly seems to plague me wherever I go, is clearly shared by others.
I like to think of myself as a liberal – but I would take all who discard litter on the streets, use their mobile phones in a cinema, put their feet on the seats of public transport and loudly eat sweets in a theatre, and do to them what Jeremy Clarkson would do to public sector workers who go on strike.
This lack of consideration for each other – be that fellow audience members in a theatre or people in the cinema who have paid to watch a film and not the glow of someone’s mobile phone – is everywhere.
I also discovered when I arrived home that, while my irritation at the behaviour of a number of people in Wakefield Theatre put me in a vast majority, I was not unanimously supported.
I had also posted something about the people in the theatre on my Facebook page – I’m not very tactful and I find it helps to spread out my anger across different media.
One friend on Facebook berated me for moaning about what he called a “middle class problem”.
As a proud working-class (in the old sense of the word) lad, this cut me to the quick and gave me pause for thought. Had mixing in the rarefied world of the arts turned me into a cultural snob, baulking at the behaviour of “the masses”?
I am comfortable in answering, no.
Even though I grew up in a working-class household, it turns out the old adage is true – good manners cost nothing, so we could afford them.
My Facebook friend, who is entirely entitled to his opinion, had misunderstood. This isn’t a class issue.
This wasn’t about me being what he might consider a “typical” theatre attender becoming annoyed because one or two people weren’t aware of the code of behaviour in such establishments.
There were two women sitting directly in front of me, of an age, both well-dressed, outwardly well-to-do – rustling around in a bag of sweets within minutes of curtain up. This plague of lack of consideration appears to know no social, class or age boundaries. A lot of the sweet-eaters in Wakefield were young boys on a school trip, others were elderly couples.
It is endemic and the cause is that our solipsism is fed far too well these days.
The birth of the iPod generation and advances in personal technology have led to a situation where we live almost entirely in our own bespoke worlds.
When we walk the streets inside our own bubbles, a personal soundtrack accompanying the movie of our lives in which we are the stars, is it any wonder that we are utterly at the centre of our universe?
And if the world revolves around us, why should we care about the effect of our behaviour on others?
My eating sweets is distracting someone else in the theatre? So what, I want to eat sweets.
Dropping litter right outside the shop is a nuisance for others? Well, I either drop it here or walk 15ft to a bin. Playing my music loudly on public transport is distracting other passangers? I want to listen to it, why should I care?
It’s time to plug back in to the real world and realise what we do doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that our behaviour affects those around us – and perhaps introduce capital punishment for theatre sweet-eaters.
Probably best not to tweet that.