The monkey has been a theatregoer for twenty years and thinks it has seen it all, from mobile phone users who cannot turn off their toy to digital watch wearers who need audible reminding that interval has begun. There follows a guide to some common inhabitants of the monkey's world:
The wannabe: This bozo has their ear wired direct to their mouth with nothing between to act as a filter. They hum, sing or recite simultaneously with the actor on stage. Worse are the psychic wannabes. These actually anticipate what is said and come out with it a beat before the actor. Sadly, they often need their psychic powers re-tuned (preferably with a pickaxe handle) as they usually get it wrong. Fortunately they apologise and correct themselves loudly. Nurse, this person is out of bed again.
Reader Jonathan reports an evolution in the species...the "Idol Wannabe"...yes, the amateur singing star who treats a performance as an audition and sings along with the cast. Perhaps excusable during the finale of "We Will Rock You," but Jonathan reports people joining in during "On My Own" in "Les Misérables"!
Cut Glass Shakespeare Haw-Haw: Older than the man himself, these inhabitants of the Royal National Theatre audience laugh loudly at the "jokes" before they are even spoken. They know the Shakespearean Canon because they attended the original opening night. They also know every single performance ever; and loudly compare them during the present one. Wonder why there are no memorable Shakespearean actors today? This lot won't shut up and let anyone hear them. A close relative has to be...
Bossy Singles: Reader Chris Lintott identified these as, "usually older than average, and most common at RSC, National Theatre (and especially) the Royal Opera, these paragons of virtue will loudly and obviously point out your faults. One I sat next to gave me a running commentary on how still I was sitting at each break in the performance; another turned round and shouted over four or five rows to tell somebody to be quiet. Hasn't anyone told them theatre is fun?"
Another reader reports a similar experience:
Scary, thinks the monkey...who hopes it will not mutate into one of them...
particularly after the following tale from Monkey site regular Jake Brunger
about "Beautiful Thing" (Sound Theatre, August 2006):
While the monkey applauds the attempt at fighting back by the people in
front, it was worried that such resistance proved so futile...
T-Shirt United: The people who wear shirts advertising the musicals they have seen.
Humour Bypass: Theatre programmes are dull little things. Sometimes directors insert something quirky to liven them up. The monkey has actually watched a seller abused because the reader mistook a joke for a misprint!
Seat Squatter: Double bookings happen. When they do, give in and let us all get on with the show. The box office manager knows who is entitled to sit in a seat and their word goes. Abide by it, and do not abuse the person who gets the seat, the double booking is not the customer's fault.
Himoff: Theatres have to employ stars to keep the shows going. You AND the rest of the audience will recognise them when they appear. Please restrain yourselves from an instant comment on their physical appearance and career - you can discuss it at the interval. In the meanwhile, please shut up during the actual performance…please!
Plot Losers: If you don't know what is going on, wait until the curtain goes down before asking. Do not ask during a quiet passage of music or a dramatic pause. They are there for dramatic effect. Not for the hopelessly confused to catch up.
Snack food eaters: Why eat sweets during the show? You just lose the plot (see above) and annoy everyone with the unwrapping noises. Unless you have a valid medical reason - wait until the interval.
Reader Rosie noticed that,
Sadly, some people just don't get the message. Reader Vincent writes:
After politely asking them to wait until
the interval, they got very aggressive. Finding no ushers to be stationed
anywhere near the front stalls, and being a duty manager in a theatre
myself, I asked to speak to the duty manager at the Gielgud, who informed me
she was neither able nor willing to do anything about it. The verbal
bullying from the people next to us continued throughout Act 2.
The first example of a "snack food eater insider collaborator"
wonders the monkey...
worse, one reader reports after-effects:
Orchestra Escape Artists: Brin, a reader, classified this one for the
monkey - people tapping out a tune on the back of your seat. The monkey would
add Cap'n Kangaroo Impersonators:
Wrong Door Drongos: There is a good reason why doors to the auditorium are marked with seat numbers. West End theatres are confined spaces. Those who make an error have to clamber over half the theatre to make the correction. Unless you happen to be a wildly attractive monkey / monkeyesse; this is unpleasant physical encounter for the recipient of your efforts. The monkey also criticises the stupid ushers who do not spot, and re-direct, these idiots.
A reader notes that:
Some booking offices (especially the Lyttelton at the National) seem to have a knack of identifying the people who are going to arrive first and always give them the seats nearest the aisles!"
The monkey absolutely agrees with the above. Selective memory protected it by "blotting out" these types when initially writing the article! It was glad to be reminded.
Another reader, Gillian, has been able to conduct more extensive research into the matter and was actually able to recognise the scientific principles at work here. Her important results are as follows:
"Someone mentioned theatres which have a knack of knowing who latecomers
will be and selling them tickets in the middle of rows.
The monkey strongly feels that a Nobel nomination is warranted.
TV Refugee: The person who spends their nights in front of the television, but then suddenly decides to have a night out at the theatre. Great, theatremonkey welcomes you. Just please remember: you are sharing your viewing experience with two hundred or so others in your seating section. They would appreciate a little decorum!
One reader reports that this now works in reverse:
"OK now I've seen it all!! I was at Anything Goes on a Saturday in March 2004. A man in row H of the stalls had a tiny portable television, it was ON - (he did have headphones) he was watching the rugby!!!!"
The monkey weeps, quietly, while with great concentration it bangs its head against a convenient wall...
Front Row Discount Dipsticks: Theatremonkey reader Louise Hart (who describes herself as, "a very poor student musical addict, but one who's prepared to pay full price to actually see the stage!") - the monkey recognises that sentiment - adds this horror to the list:
"The audience members who fail to see the significance of the first row of the upper circle being MUCH cheaper than any other rows behind it...
If anyone's had the misfortune to pay "only £15 for a front row seat" they will have soon realised because of the angle of the seats to the stage you can only see the top half of the stage - so how do they combat this? By leaning over as far forwards as they can and blocking the view of every single other person sitting in the five rows behind them! Surely there should be a sign telling them to remain seated instead of perched?
In fairness to the theatres, after paying out the huge amount to see
"Phantom Of The Opera" I was annoyed when this happened to me, but the very
courteous and professional usher told the offending members to "stay seated or they would be asked to leave".
When the audience members complained that they couldn't see the usher merely replied sweetly: "that's why these good
people paid the full £35 and you didn't." It made my day!"
Perching (or, in monkey's case, swinging) on a seat is unfair to the people behind you, dangerous (email monkey for the full joke), and uncomfortable. If people would only think before buying, they could save both money and inconveniencing everyone.
Front row Exhibitionists
I was a tourist in London and was astonished at the level of coughing at the theatre - even more than in Sydney. Perhaps its because at some concerts and plays I have been to here cough sweets are handed out free at the door.
The answer is simple. Dickens evoked the magic of the theatre wonderfully well. At that time the poor were also often rife with chest illnesses, yet they attended the theatre anyway. These unpopular figures are simply devoted historians, dedicated to sharing with us all the pleasure of theatregoing in a bygone age...
Actually, the reason is probably that a) they considered themselves fit to go and b) they could not get a refund on the tickets. Oh dear!
The "Been there, done that":
The monkey normally finds mothballs the worst, but it knows the perfume problem too!
If you are going to see a show aimed at children, well, what do you expect, feels the monkey!?
Trainee Hatcheck Staff:
The Bog Trotters:
Then we also have 'Tonto' similar to the Lone Ranger but is more aware of their predicament and so stoops lightly as to not obscure our view, but does anyway.
And our last in this motley crew is 'Silver.' Again
similar predicament to the Lone Ranger but takes it upon themselves to
squat incredibly low and try to run to the loos and back to their
seats, I presume to prevent the entire audience seeing them, but they
needed have bothered because we do!
Flashbulb Harrys and Harriets:
Totally agree, is the monkey opinion. It would also point out yet again that without specialist film, photos taken inside a venue during a performance are unlikely to come out, and the flash can be EXTREMELY dangerous to the performers on stage.
Brings a whole new meaning to "shake, rattle and roll" thinks the monkey, who was upset to hear about this behaviour. It would also add those who kick the seats in the row in front to the list of folk who unwittingly animate the furniture...
Middle Aged Snoggers’
The monkey agrees.
The list is not confined to the audience though. The monkey also hates:
Box Office Bolshie: You are employed to sell tickets and disseminate information on behalf of the theatre. Kindly try to do so. Please do give all the ticket prices and location of seats, please look for a single seat in an otherwise full theatre, and please, please, remember we are paying your wages. So be pleasant. Most of you are resting actors and give monkey a wonderful performance. For the bolshies - try to do so too, it will keep you in practice.
On the other hand, there are some Box Office Angels too. Reader Simon Feegrade email@example.com was impressed by the service he received from the Trafalgar Studios/Ambassador staff in 2004.
"I requested front row, but was told the RSC were being slow to release their unsold allocation, which included those seats. They reserved my 4th-row tickets without taking payment while waiting to see what the RSC released. From Thursday to following Tuesday, they held them, while giving me phone updates, before confirming the front row seats were available and only taking payment then. And they were helpful and courteous throughout."
Chris Ellis adds, for the Cambridge Theatre in 2004:
great news that this species does exist!
Sound Desk DJ: The desk at the back of the theatre is complex. It controls the sound we hear. Fine. It is also noisy and distracting for those sitting near it. Please techies, be quiet as you do your job. Oh, yes, and if it is not too much trouble, also remember that sound varies throughout the theatre, so try to balance it with the whole place in mind, not just the rear stalls. Study your acoustics if you would be so kind.
Lighting Desk Jockey
"Especially in smaller (around 250seat) and the worse pub theatres; those in the front 2 or 3 rows need a welding mask to look at the stage as the lights are just way too bright!
Sidebar (those lights placed at the edges of the stage in the wings) and Front Of House bar lights (placed in the theatre pointing towards the stage) rarely pose problems, but overeager overstage and backlighting leave fine performances unwatchable.
If we are in a darkened space, I feel that clear sightlines easily outweigh proximity to it. I've seen a play set in a dungeon where the lights lit most of the auditorium!
As for squeaks, don't start me about cyberlights! These are motorised so they can move during the performance, useful for musicals and Top Of The Pops (a British pop music show).
Anyway stage lights are a minimum of 500watts and get very hot, very quickly. Normal oil burns off - at best it stinks, at worst it triggers the smoke alarms! Specialist hi-temp greases (copaslip, molyslip) are available but expensive...
...Next time you hear the lights squeaking and scraping along with the rhythm ask who's the cheapskate git with the maintenance job!!!! Very often the local hire shop for Amateur Dramatics companies is to blame, but if you pay for tickets expect your money's worth. If nobody says nowt, guess what happens?!
Valuable advice, and an interesting insight too, thinks the monkey.
The Wandering Stagehands:
Actor Switch Off: Every performance has a new audience. You may have done this show a hundred times. We will only see it once. Never sleepwalk through your part. If you are interested in what you are doing, we will follow.
"Is anyone looking at me" cast member: Kyrsty Mewett notes
that they are more often in amateur shows, but are easily spotted at the person near the back who either lacks effort, does the wrong move, or does something amusing like flashing or changing the dance routine.
Long Run Blues: Some shows have been going so long that the cast was not even born when it first opened. This is no excuse for lazy direction, characterisation or technical staging. By all means keep things fresh, but do keep the newest cast up to the standards of the original, and a few pounds spent on refurbished scenery etc, where appropriate, never comes amiss.
Pits of a Pit Orchestra: The Musicians Union is voluble about keeping their workforce employed. If you want to be treated as professionals, behave like them. Commit to contracts, don't rely on a friend filling in for you, and play like you mean it. Every night. Some of us do notice the missing instruments, wrong notes, bad timing, poor synchronisation with stage action and lack of enthusiasm you know!
A reader also says,
The monkey couldn't have put it better itself!
One overseas visitor summed up audience manners when he commented that:
"I come to London from time to time and visit as many productions as possible. After three years without visiting, this time I'm afraid I must say that the standard of service of many theatres I went to has fallen.
Ushers don't know anything about the current production or the place. My impression in those moments (and there were some of them in 8 days) was...it's all only (!) about making money. Who trains them, who teaches them to love (or at least know something about) theatre and performing arts?
Another impression is that audiences themselves spoil evenings with talking, phoning, making noise with ice cream, plastic material etc. And the irony is that the theatres themselves provoke this by selling food just in front of the audience! I don't believe it! I would ban food in stalls and galleries."
The shape of things to come, asks the monkey?...
One reader has a possible solution, though. He reports that,
The monkey rather hopes so!
All further contributions to this invaluable record are still welcome, email us! The monkey will add them in its time between anger management classes!