On the showbiz beat: Time to turn the mobiles off, theatregoers

Eating has been banned during performances of Imelda Staunton's new play

My theatrical enjoyment was once again hampered this week by the scourge of the mobile phone.

It comes in a week when the government has introduced stiffer penalties for those using their phone while driving and I think we should all take a long hard look at our need for almost constant engagement with the digital world.

Those of you who know me well, will have noticed that I’m a bit of a slave to social media and I hate missing emails or messages, however I would never have my phone on in the car and would die of embarrassment if it ever went off in the theatre.

During a media night performance of Wicked last week the couple sitting in front of me intermittently checked their social media throughout the performance, which was hugely distracting for those around them.

We are not talking about the sound of ringing or even the odd ping of a message (which most people thankfully now understand to be inappropriate) but instead a continuous influx of light pollution, which detracted from the carefully crafted ambience, which had been created.

What many people don’t realise is that your phone acts as a spotlight when you’re in the theatre, so everyone on stage and around the auditorium can see you.

In fact, when I perched in an onstage seat at a recent performance of This House at the Garrick Theatre, one particular numpty was lit up like a carnival float for most of Act one, as she couldn’t bear to be away from her phone.

It’s generally not young people who are the main culprits either, and I just wish we could fine the perpetrators and use the money to pay for those less fortunate to attend in their stead.

I know hundreds of people who simply can’t afford to see West End shows and yet night after night there are rude and selfish people who buy tickets and then don’t pay attention to the production.

Someone once told me that they had a family emergency and so they had to keep the phone on just incase the situation changed. If you’ve got a family emergency, why the devil are you going to the theatre in the first place?

Worse than that, at my most recent visit to the Arts Theatre for a press performance, a reviewer who was sitting next to me kept lighting up to check messages throughout. I scowled at him, but he didn’t take the hint.

I have previously simply told people to turn their phones off, but you are never sure if you’re going to be greeted with an angry response, so I’ve become more careful recently.

It’s not just phones that cause anger among regular theatregoers and this week the issue of whether food should be allowed has been a hot topic.

Imelda Staunton hit the headlines last year by saying food should be banned from the theatre and this week the producers of her latest play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter Theatre have granted her wish.

An article on The Stage’s website (www.thestage.co.uk) claims that in an email to ticket bookers, Ambassador Theatre Group – which operates the Harold Pinter – said no food would be allowed to be eaten during the show.

“Out of consideration for the actors and for fellow audience members, we ask that no food be consumed during the performance,” it said.

I don’t want to discourage people from going to the theatre, but if you can’t manage a couple of hours without eating or checking your phone, well in my opinion, you shouldn’t be there.

As you can gather, it really gets my goat and the stagey world has been filled with discussions over the best course of action for a long time.

Right, that’s my rant over.

I didn’t let the phone issue ruin my time in the capital and I had a busy week filled with theatre outings, which included another trip to see Wicked (awesome as usual) a visit to the Apollo to see Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (a bit above me!) and my first ever visit to the National Theatre to see a play called Ugly Lies the Bone, which was pretty harrowing stuff.

I also auditioned for my latest local stage foray and I will let you know if I was successful in due course.

Next week I’m off to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl at Southwark Playhouse and as I’m a custodian of a female adolescent, I’m approaching it with trepidation.

I’ll also have the pleasure of seeing Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe on stage at the Old Vic, which is very exciting and I’ve got a few celebrity interviews on the cards.

You can read all of my reviews and interviews on our websites londonnewsonline.co.uk and viewnews.co.uk or you can follow me on Twitter for regular updates @NickySweetland

Nicky is a former Cardiac Rehabilitation Instructor, who started to write about theatre in 2014. Nicky now covers entertainment in both the south west and London, as-well-as working on the popular Lyme Regis Experience magazine.