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The Ten Tests of Theatre

February 28, 2018

For me, theatre is “work” most of the time. I’m sitting there working out whether the seats are good value and also what to write about the show (easy if it’s good or bad, harder if it’s mediocre). So, I have a few things I do as a matter of habit, which help things along.

1) Smiles In View. Are the theatre staff happy in their work, or just there because it’s the closest they will get to a stage all year? The best want to chat to the audience, help them find their seats, and push off out of the auditorium once the show begins. The worst stare into the distance or chat among themselves (sometimes during the show) and pass the odd bitchy comment about what they are watching. Never good.

2) Chav Count. How many audience members are illegally taking photos before and during the show? Using their phone generally? Bringing drinks in and having a seat picnic?

3) Programme Flick. A good mix of articles and adverts, with headshot photos so I can identify the cast? Or £4 for 2 pages, 1 of which is clearly for the owner’s daughter’s new hair salon? Bonus points if they take credit card payments for programmes and have the right change too.

4) Souk Alert. Only a few manufacturers supply most of the souvenirs sold in London theatres. Fewer still sell anything even remotely tasteful. Still, distinguishing between the acceptable (nice show-logo mug, a well designed Tshirt) and the total garbage passes a few minutes before they open the auditorium.

5) Dusty. Has the place been swept? You will not believe some of the crud if you look for it on the side rails, circle fronts, between seats of an ill-maintained theatre (Delfont Mackintosh set the cleanliness standard, if you are wondering).

6) Bog Standards. Can you smell them as the door from the foyer opens? A good sign if not.

7) Throwing a Paddy. As in, does my butt get angry when it finds there is nothing between it and the wood for the next three hours. Theatre seats are expensive, but pretty vital, so let’s keep them in good shape, eh?

8) Sign of the Times. Are the doors marked with the right seat numbers (the Lyttelton hilariously misses off a seat in the stalls), and can you actually find the loos?

9) Box Office Brilliance. Can they find your order in the box? Can they deal patiently with the twit in front who turned up on the wrong night at the wrong theatre, even as the line builds up behind? It’s a daily thing, and only the best survive – but they are an art to watch in action.

10) Something In The Air. First, is the air-conditioning or heating over-enthusiastic. More to the point, are the crowd? Concentrating and involved, or going to behave like they are on their home sofa and not where the actors can see and hear them…


Passes the time, anyway.

  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    February 28, 2018 9:34 am

    Interesting post! I would add:
    Good initiatives: the Birmingham Hippodrome (we used to go to the VERY LAVISH panto there every year with in-laws) would have ushers on ever door with cardboard tubs in which patrons could their bags of sweets to avoid rustling. Brilliant!

    Re point 2: I wish theatres were a bit more sensible with their photography bans. Obviously they should be switched off for the entire performance but it wouldn’t harm them to allow some photography of the theatre. When I was at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last week, some people in front (from out of town, not regular theatregoers) were utterly stunned by the beauty of the theatre. They were taking photos and stopped by an usher. They then asked if there were postcards they could buy. There weren’t, of course. At Hamilton, on the other hand, full of hyperactive millennials, they were happy for photos of the stage to be taken before the show. Freya then told me how social media was full of such photos (she took the requisite selfie with the stage in the background to post) and her envious friends made immediate plans to book. This can only help productions and harms nobody.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      February 28, 2018 10:18 am

      Ah Birmingham Hippdrome – renowned for it. They now get the sets from the Palladium, and adapt the script, too. Funny enough, last year’s Wimbledon with the helicopter was first seen there, too. Loving the cardboard tubes. Trouble is, on Monday night somebody next to me had peanuts in one of those – the crunching was still annoying as anything…

      It comes down to ownership. Those who created both set and interior own the rights, and they are entitled to have their work used as they choose. I agree postcards should be sold – but there are several fantastic, lavish photo books with all the interior shots of West End theatres you could want :).

  2. February 28, 2018 2:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Opera is Magic and commented:
    the trials and tribulations of London theatre goers 🙂 Because most of the theatres are really old, this stuff matters even more!

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      February 28, 2018 2:47 pm

      Yes, that is exactly what it is, and it does! Best, Steve.

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