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Behaviour at the theatre - How to find the best seats and theatre ticket deals.

The monkey has been a theatregoer for decades, 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 some drunken "jukebox" musical event, 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:
"a lady sat in the audience on the first night had decided that the reason two of the characters were occasionally miming meant that they had not yet learned her lines. She did not keep this opinion to herself and shared it very loudly with the lady next to her in full earshot of the cast (small theatre 'in the round' so it is essential to be respectful! - you should of course be respectful at all times, but I think the smaller theatres make it all the more necessary!)."

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):
"About 30 seconds before a show started an incredibly old woman walked into the auditorium in a big heavy grey coat - bearing in mind it was hot outside. Everyone in the audience, almost exclusively gay men, couldn't stop muttering about her and how odd it was that a very old woman should come and see "Beautiful Thing" (of all things) on her own. Anyway, she takes her seat (in the premium section) and the show begins.

As the interval is about to end, there's a commotion around the old woman with the two men in front and there are two ushers talking to her pointing at the side stalls. We assume that she's not supposed to be sitting in the premium section. An old man, around her age, has appeared in the side stalls during the interval too, who wasn't there in the first half. The woman, despite the fact numerous people are talking to her, looks squarly ahead and ignores them. Everyone else in the theatre is watching nothing else but this unfolding scene in the seats. Eventually, they get her to move, and everyone is laughing and a few people make boo-ing or 'ahh'-ing noises because everyone assumes she's been moved out of the expensive seats.

As soon as the lights begin to dim for second act, the old lady gets up from the side stall seat she's been moved to and moves back to her premium seat! Everyone is laughing, a few people start clapping, but the two men in front are absolutely livid and one of them runs straight out of their seats to fetch an usher - bearing in mind that actors and audience share the space to get to their seats at Sound, so everyone is watching what's going to happen with this woman, no-one cares about the play! Anyway, the guy comes straight back sits down and the play begins - but the actors must have been wondering what on earth was going on!

Afterwards I couldn't not ask the guys in front what the problem was - we were so curious - and apparently the old woman had leant forward repeatedly in the first act to ask him to stop laughing so much! And it had pissed him off so he asked to have her moved!!

It was just hysterical though - I was shaking with laughter for the first 2 minutes of the second act!"

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.

Iron Man Theatregoer: Been in that "Day Seat" line since 10.30pm the night before (actually happened at "Clarence Darrow" at the Old Vic in 2014, the monkey was told. They do it for thrill when the box office opens and they know they've really EARNED that cheap ticket. "Hats Off" to them, says the monkey.

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 Zoe says,
"The couple next to me arrived with 2 full packs of Haribo and a full box of celebrations. I had to endure both acts with the man next to me chewing loudly and his consistent noisy sweet unwrapping. I don't think I have ever had to deal with it quite as badly and 'The Elephant Man' is a sensitive and beautiful play, so it's not as if it was muffled by an orchestra!"

Reader Rosie noticed that,
"At the beginning of Batboy (Shaftesbury Theatre 2004), along with the usual announcement to ask the audience to turn off their mobile phones, there is always the request for people to unwrap any sweets they have as the performance is about to start.  Not only does this tend to get a laugh, it actually works - there's very little disturbance (except for laughter) from the audience during the show!"

Reader Ingo adds,
"Eating snacks seems to be another problem. I have seen (heard and smelled as well) people eating popcorn, sandwiches or other things during the whole performance making annoying noises all the time."

Sadly, some people just don't get the message. Reader Vincent writes:
"I go to the theatre in London on average once a month, and have done so for the past four years. I'm happy to report I have rarely encountered any problems on any score, and have found the front of house staff for the most part beyond excellent.

I do feel I ought to inform people of one notable exception. I was at a performance of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at the Gielgud recently (January 2005), and after having splashed out on top-price seats, we had our evening ruined by the people sitting next to us who were noisily and consistently unwrapping individual sweets (incidentally bought at the theatre, but don't get me started on that one!) and talking rather loudly, all of which would have been very audible from on-stage.  

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.

I wrote to the Really Useful Group, and received a similarly unsympathetic reply. I am still baffled, I know from experience how fussy and awkward audiences can be, and how they complain about the smallest thing, but I really thought this was a legitimate issue that needed addressing, and I found the level of customer service incredibly lacking. It's not as if the Really Useful Group don't have the power to deal with this kind of complaint, or indeed can't afford to offer some compensation for a ruined evening.

I know that if I or any staff working at our theatre had treated an audience member in that way, we'd rightly have been disciplined"

The first example of a "snack food eater insider collaborator" wonders the monkey... worse, one reader reports after-effects:
"a gentleman next to me proceeded to belch his way through the first AND second half with no signs of remorse whatsoever - nice!"

Hedda Wobbler: Something wrong with the neck, but no surgical collar. Consequently the head wobbles constantly - side to side and up and down... just when you think you can see past... off it goes in a new direction...

At "The Elephant Man" in 2015, reader Zoe says,
"I am not sure what was going on in front of me but I had a woman who would not stop moving. The rake is really good in the royal circle and she kept leaning forward for no reason. I also noted she kept borrowing her partner's glasses for brief moments so I wonder whether it was an eyesight thing. But the bobbing up, down and side to side was tiring for me having to dodge but also not to move too much myself to distract the people in front of me!"

The Human Joystick: Doesn't just lean forwards, but also sideways and backwards. Disconcerting to say the least.

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:
Those behind you who insist on kicking your seat during the performance. The tall who are trying to shift around to get comfortable are everyone else..."get lost, Skippy!". Brin also spotted the species "Leg rest Larry" - people who use the seat in front as a foot rest, and, worst of all, "Vigilante Critic" - someone playing with a cigarette lighter during the performance! He notes that, "I just couldn't believe it, I called the fireman (theatre safety officer, not the London Fire Brigade). 

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:
"An addition to the Wrong Door Drongos are those who forget how to count and the rudiments of the alphabet when trying to find their seats and they never seem to have their tickets to hand. I always put things like this down to people who a "too cool to read signs.

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.

I believe this is actually a Law of the Theatre, known as 'Lloyd-Webber's Law of Temporal Positioning'. This states that "People who arrive earliest are always those with seats on the end of a row.  People who arrive latest are always those with seats in the middle."

Further to this, there is 'Mackintosh's Corollary', which states "People who arrive after the performance has started will always have seats in the middle of a row."

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!"

Louise is right thinks the monkey. A bargain is only a bargain when you get a good seat cheaply. You mostly get what you pay for, though, because that is how theatres decide on pricing!

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: A sub-species of the dipstick (above) a reader says,
"My experience was at 'Acorn Antiques - The Musical' - I was lucky enough to be on the front row and seeing actors like Julie Walters, Celia Imrie and Sally Ann Triplett from that view point was great, especially as it was a (very expensive) birthday present! One woman sat two seats down from me laughed out loud throughout almost the entire show and it was very forced laughter - it appeared that she was trying to get the attention of Julie Walters. In the end, she did get it because Julie actually lost her place in the number and had to stop and make a joke of it. That woman spoiled the experience for me and I'm sure many others, I am glad the show is on DVD so I can watch in peace!"

Reader Ingo adds,
"What is getting more and more on my nerves are some female visitors who always yell (and I do not only mean "applaud" but really shout, scream or yell) when their favourite actor is coming onstage. They`re just behaving like at a concert of the Backstreet Boys or Take That in the 1990s. That really is annoying."

Dickensian Atmospherists: Australian reader Michael Redhill raises a good question:
"Why do people leave their deathbeds to go to the theatre?  They arrive, snivelling through the performance, coughing at all punchlines/dramatic scenes, quiet patches and whenever they are SURE to be heard and annoy at the same time.   

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!"

Reader Zoe says, at "The Elephant Man" (2015), A row in front of a "hedda wobbler," we had one of these. Coughing... I noted a woman sitting in the central section constantly looking over before the show started at the coughing offender and roll her eyes!"

The "Been there, done that": Identified by reader Kyrsty Mewett as the ones who during the show say 'That didn't happen last time' or 'She wore blue eye shadow last time, not green' or other annoying little nitpicks like that." 

The watch-losers: Another invaluable identification from Kyrsty who defines them as those who wander in ten minutes late and either make no attempt to stay out of the way of other audience members, or half heartedly crouch down when wandering to their seat, looking the whole time at the stage. Hey - we want to see it too you know!

Reader Zoe says, at "The Elephant Man" (2015), adds,
"Fortunately they didn't block my view but it was so distracting and they missed an amazing part of the show. I wish more theatre's would adopt the policy Wyndham's Theatre had for "American Buffalo," and not let in latecomers until the interval. It would definitely persuade people to leave with enough time to get to venues. I appreciate that public transport can cause problems and this should be dealt with at the theatres' discretion however transport seemed fine the other evening!"

Pongo Sticks: Identified by a reader who noted that:
"The strength and amount of perfume on the woman next to me! My partner and myself both left the theatre with headaches and feeling sick!"

The monkey normally finds mothballs the worst, but it knows the perfume problem too!

Cheapskate Child Hater: Reported by reader Andrew Arvidson at a performance of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang": "Shame on the curmudgeon who bought cheap seats to a family show and then hissed and growled and the young members of the audience who were expressing delight at the performance. While I've been to shows were young children were a negative (a very bored and vocal young lady at "Kiss Me Kate" springs to mind); this was not such an occasion."

If you are going to see a show aimed at children, well, what do you expect, feels the monkey!?

On the opposite end, another reader notes,
"One clear omission is School Trips, but even worse are Foreign School Trips. Back in 2015 I had the misfortune to attend a matinee performance of Billy Elliot in close proximity to a large party of French schoolchildren. It probably seemed a good idea for them at the time: a feel-good coming-of-age musical. However...

Not only were they hyper because of all the sweets they were noisily eating, but however good their rudimentary grasp of English, the strong North-Eastern accents were totally incomprehensible to them. So they behaved as most bored-to-tears teenagers would: fidgetting and chatting in spite of the stewards' best efforts to quiten them down.

We were able to move a few rows away from them, but still within hearing distance. Staff were very apologetic afterwards, but they were never going to throw out 30-odd paying customers!"

Trainee Hatcheck Staff: So keen to join this worthy profession, they like to practise in their free time. When you arrive at your seat to find a neatly stacked pile of coats already on it, you know that you are seated next to a member of this community. Storing outwear and other belongings tidily is an art, so do excuse the resentful looks as they are forced to destroy their masterpieces...a little understanding goes a long way in this world. After all, it could well have been their coursework for their hatcheck examinations that they were forced to dismantle!

The Bog Trotters: Reader Lucy Bacon has spent many hours studying this species in the field, and reports a number of varieties:
"The 'Lone Ranger' - Someone who decided not to go to the loo before the show, decides halfway though the first or second act that they need to go and can't be bothered to wait, and therefore brazenly strides across the front of the auditorium to get to the nearest loo, fully aware that both the actors on stage and the entire stalls section can see them. 

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!
Perhaps we could also remind theatre goers, that across the front of the stalls is not the only way to get to toilets!

I've witnessed all the above 3 audience members, I find that 'silvers' tend to be teenagers and children, although it is quite amusing seeing older people do the 'stoop and sprint' and it seems like Tonto's are in short supply, perhaps because they are more likely to 'hold on' till the interval than face the wrath of the rest of the audience. I have however witnessed manly Lone Rangers, including a rather spectacular one at "We Will Rock You" who was so open about her clear bladder weakness that the member of the cast on stage at the time stopped what he was doing and watched her cross the front of the auditorium! Cue lots of laughs and you would've thought an embarrassed Lone Ranger, alas she used exactly the same route to get back to her seat, I guess some people never learn!"

Flashbulb Harrys and Harriets: Identified by reader Adam, who reports,
"After an otherwise fantastic night at the ROH last week though I think that you're missing a category -the people who think that the best way to preserve a memory of the show is to take a photograph - with flash! - DURING THE PERFORMANCE! "Swan Lake" was beautiful, but I think the lighting was working perfectly well without the addition of camera flashes from the balcony."

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.

Seat Animators: Discovered by a visitor to Wembley Arena, who says:
"I thought it might be good to mention something about the Central Arena Seating which bugged me when I saw Dolly Parton on 25th March 2007. Sitting in the second row of block A3 (seats 17 and 18) we were joined by to teenage boys, which I was not in the slightest bothered by as you get everyone at concerts. Well the teenage boy that was sitting right next to me decided it would be good to continuously shake his leg up and down with the music (which again is fine by me) but in A3, because the seats are detachable, all of our 4 seats were attached and with his shaking came constant rocking back and forth of the seating. So it might be worth mentioning this."

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...

It gets worse, though, as another reader says,
"My daughter and a friend went to see "Mamma Mia" recently and were behind two girls of about 12 – who not only felt the need to sing along, with their arms above their heads, but one also chose to start redoing her hair in the middle of the show, arms up above her head!"

Phony Phonees: Identified by a monkey reader in a West End Dress Circle, she says:
"I can’t recall which show or which theatre it was now, except that it had a very steep rake in the Dress Circle. It could occur anywhere I suppose.

Anyway, there we were, sitting two seats from the aisle in the Dress Circle, and a couple arrived to occupy the two seats next to the aisle. They settled down, he with a bulky carrier style canvas or something bag at his feet on the aisle. About half an hour before the interval, a mobile alarm went off. It kept going. No one moved. (Why is it that people think you won’t know where it is coming from when you are right next to them?) The couple shuffled, and he muttered something to his companion. I looked at them, but they did nothing and stared ahead. The alarm eventually stopped. A few minutes later, it went off again. This time, I asked him to switch if off. He looked at me and said “It isn’t my ‘phone”. The ‘phone in his bag continued to beep, on full volume. He said it again – this time to his companion, which confused me. Then she turned to me in a fury and said loudly “It isn’t his ‘phone. He is just looking after it, so stop having a pop and shut up.” Notwithstanding my surprise, I told her “shoosh”, so that she did not disturb the rest of the audience any further (the ‘phone had just stopped beeping). She started hyperventilating at my appalling arrogance, and continued to huff and puff throughout the rest of the half. At the interval, we rose, and politely excused ourselves as we waited for her to move her legs so that we could pass in the very small space, to get to the loo. We waited, and waited, and then she finally moved an inch or so.

There was no alarm in the second half, so one presumes that the carer of the borrowed/stolen/mislaid ‘phone permitted himself to touch and interfere with the controls, or that it had done it’s worst and cared no more to torture us.

Is this unique? Am I going mad or is it weird? Is it the age thing? Am I intolerant (rising 60) of 20-somethings? (Probably)."

Not intolerant, felt the monkey, just possessing greater than average common sense... and more manners...

Reader Ingo adds,
"Although people are being asked not to use their cellphones during the show (most shows have some kind of an announcement), quite a number of people do not respect that. They don´t even bother switching it off and openly use it during the show. I have got no idea how to solve that problem but theatres definitely should try to solve it."

Middle Aged Snoggers: Spotted by reader Kevin from Manchester, who writes:
"I was unfortunate enough to have sat in front of me a very affectionate couple kissing each other throughout almost the entire performance of Cabaret at the Lyric in October 2007.

Did I say ‘kissing’? Sorry I meant FULL ON SNOGGING, tongues and all! Cast your mind back to you teenager years and on the back row of your local flea pit cinema and this is what they were like!

However, these were no teenagers, they weren’t even in early 20s or 30s…They were at least mid 40s possibly late 40s! I can only assume that they were not each other’s ‘regular partner’ and were on some secret randy rendezvous. God knows what mood they were in afterwards after watching such a raunchy show like Cabaret.

Age aside, the theatre is no place for ‘tonsil tennis’!"

The monkey agrees.

Picnic!: Spotted by a reader in August 2018:
"In the auditorium of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane one Mum and her two young daughters (about 5 to 7 years) were eating a Salami Pizza taken in from Pizza Express (why didn't the ushers say that this is not appropriate) and the children were touching with their greasy fingers chairs and seat cushions."

Hot food isn't permitted inside LW Theatres, the monkey is told. Still, it takes ingenuity to get it past security, it guesses...

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 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:
"An extra word of praise for the theatre staff - I lost our tickets on the way to the theatre, but luckily had noted my booking reference. However, there was no hassle in getting replacement tickets quickly from the box office when we arrived, with only minutes to spare."

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: Theatremonkey reader Mark Hannon passes on this one, especially for those wanting to see a play in a small or fringe venue:

"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: Kyrsty Mewett noticed these - more in amateur shows than the West End normally, but easily recognised. These backstage hands wonder how near the stage they can get before being spotted. A LOT CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, says Kyrsty!

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,
"A comment about how many superb musicians there are in the UK that would give anything to do their job would be good. Reading books and chatting in the pit are also a large problem, especially when the front rows can hear them, but again the MD should be strong enough to stop this, and not try to be just ‘one of the lads.’

And for the monkey's ‘enthusiasm’ comment, how about playing each performance with the utmost professionalism, effort and musicianship, people are paying a great deal to see a cracking show with some of the UK’s finest musicians playing, so prove that you are. That should appeal to the pit musicians that may come across the site!"

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)'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,
"I went to the Pizza Express Jazz Club (Dean St). Before the performance there was an announcement - "the silence policy" was read aloud. It seemed to work even though people were eating and drinking. could this catch on in theatres??"

The monkey rather hopes so!

Another reader says, in January 2016:
"Having read this, I´d like to add a few oddities. I have to mention that I am from Germany and have been visiting London at least twice a year in order to attend theatre performances for more than 25 years. I am now 45 years old.

1) The curry eater
Having seen a performance of "Bend it like Beckham", I had the bad fortune to see behind a man who was wearing a massive turban (you could not see over it). but that was by far not the worst thing. The family next to me was - in the middle of Act I - unpacking her bag... and then started to eat a curry dish. No usher said anything.

2) Thriller live - Horror Live
Two weeks ago (late 2015), I went to see 'Thriller Live 'with my wife. This was really "Hell on Earth." Not only that I think that the show is appalling (it is definitely more a tribute show than a musical), but my wife and I could spot a lot of youngsters sitting in the boxes and putting their feet on the balustrade.

That was by far not the worst behaviour. We had a hen night sitting behind us. Totally drunk females who hadn't got the faintest idea how to behave properly. They were shouting swear words all the time, giggling whenever it was not appropriate and they were constantly drinking alcoholic beverages (burping inclusive). The ushers didn't give a damn, not even when I told them during the break. They were more interested in selling ice cream than in anything else.

3) In July 2015 I went to see "Baddies". Being a teacher myself, I don't mind school children in a theatre performance as long as they behave adequately. But there was one girl who shi*ted her pants and the stench was enormous. She didn't even bother going to the toilet - and when she finally stood up after the show you could see that the seat she was taking was completely wet. That´s simply gross.

4) Mates night out:
About as bad as a hen night having next to you is having a "Mates night out" next to you in the audience. This happened to me a couple of years ago when watching "Rock of Ages". The blokes were completely drunk and were behaving like s**t (including throwing a plastic mug of beer into the auditorium).

5) Soundman using his phone
I once sat next to the mixing desk at "Jersey Boys." The man behind the mixing desk was constantly telephoning and this really got on my nerves, especially as these were private talks and had nothing to do with the play.

Generally speaking I have the impression that behaviour is getting worse every time I come to London. The same thing is with the ushers and usherettes. They are only interested in selling souvenirs and not in anything else. If you complain, then most of them are not interested."

 Sad, thinks the monkey.

In August 2016, he added,
"1) The over-protective mother:
Sitting next to a young mother in "The Go-Between", I can never recall someone who has used the cellphone that often. She permanently wrote text messages (on Whats App) to the babysitter how the baby was. And she always received an answer commenting it to the woman sitting next to her. I´m sure that baby will be helicoptered by his mum until he´s attending university.

2) The fan-user:
This one is up to 99.9% female. Although already wearing next to nothing (in this case it was just an extremely short summer dress and flip-flops, she still feels that it´s too hot in the auditorium. And in order to show to everybody that in her opinion the theatre needs a new a/c, she takes whatever she can find in the shallows of her handbag and fans herself non-stop. Even if neighbours ask her to stop for a bit, she doesn't accept it, pointing out, that she has a right "to stay cool".

3) The "I must have it somewhere"-woman:
Women and handbags are something that no man will ever be able to understand. I don´t know why some women must - in the middle of a show - grab their handbags and search for whatever they think they need at that very moment. And this could be anything from car keys to Tampax, from cellphone to tissues or from cough sweets to lipstick. I don´t know why they need it that very moment, but they never gonna find it at once, instead creating more noise than a horde of workers digging another Channel Tunnel and when you look at her you can almost every time hear the sentence: "I must have it somewhere".

Generally speaking audience behaviour has really worsened and I am really surprised what kind of audience visits shows in London. On the one hand I am happy for the theatres because they make some profits and can put on some new shows but on the other hand I would love audiences to behave in a better way. And what I found most disturbing is how badly a great deal of people are dressed when they visit the theatre. I am not thinking about T-Shirts but about flip-flops, shorts (men and women) and jumpsuits that look more like the person is going to the beach instead of a theatre.

And what strikes me most. In 11 days of watching show, not even a handful of theatres said to switch off the cellphones before the show has started. I would love interfering transmitters to be installed in every theatre.

And another thing: Ushers and usherettes most often don´t really have a clue about the basic things they can be asked (How long will be the performance be?, Is there a cast recording available?). They are only interested in selling ice-cream and programmes and in most cases you can see that these are student jobs and that they are not really interested in their work."

In 2019, another reader sent in a couple of experiences of the "over-refreshed":
"1) Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre: very drunk row of people in front of us. Shouting and screaming and ruining the show. The show itself wasn't *amazing*, however I loved the guitar solo when they actually sang 'Viva Forever'....but the drunks in front of me even whooped and jeered their way through that!

I complained to the theatre manager. They gave us free seats to come again and access to the VIP area with a glass of Prosecco.

2) The Band, Theatre Royal Haymarket: insanely drunk woman being very loud and aggressive. Ruined the show for many people (at least 20 people complained about her in the interval!). The Band has a lot of coach trips and she was one of them. She spoke at the top of her voice throughout the entire first act. I stood up twice looking for stewards, but none were visible!

At the interval, I complained to the Manager, who totally understood my worries. For the second act, there was a security guard (they started off only employing one, but after seeing the drunken behaviour of some patrons, they upped it to THREE!), two stewards, and a supervisor, standing right next to her seat......she spent 90% of the second act asleep in her chair, having come into the second act late, staggered into the auditorium, steadied herself against a pole, and then took 5 minutes to be able to sit down!

The theatre sent me a fantastic response to my email - I think they really have been shocked by the behaviour of some patrons. The theatre manager gave me 2 free tickets for another night, in great seats. He was really lovely and empathetic!"


In June 2022, a German visitor added the following:

The I-don't-have-a-watch-generation: After about 30 minutes they feel bored and want to find out how long the rest of the show is still running and as he/she doesn't have a watch, it's always the cellphone that has to be switched on to have a look what time it is. And as the phone is already switched on, you can use it to check your WhatsApp messages or other type of social media.

The terribly overweight person: This is a problem I don't know how to deal with it. The number of highly overweight people in London theatres is way higher than in Germany and the space / legroom between two rows is unfortunately way more limited than in German theatres. I don't want to be rude to anyone in a theatre but sometimes I feel that these heavily overweight people feel the urge to occupy my seat partly as well simply because of their weight. How do you react in such a situation?*

The non-stop eater: Sometimes I get the impression that some theatre-goers do not remember that a theatre is something different than a football stadium or a cinema. They eat non-stop and the sound of rustling (I hope that is the right word) sweets' packages can really get on your nerves.

*Monkey answer: depends. There are a number of medical issues which sadly cause obesity. You cannot say anything in case the person next to you is a sufferer. That is the point to remember, it guesses - be kind if you can.

All further contributions to this invaluable record are still welcome. The monkey will add them in its time between anger management classes!

An amusing idea is at