I work the occasional shift in my local pub and from behind the bar, you hear all kinds of things. In conversation with a customer last night, I mentioned that I write for theatre, to which he replied, “Are you a posh girl then?”
That theatre is just for the ‘upper-class’ of society, as it were, is clearly one misconception that is still being touted around; the image of well-to-do people dressed in all their finery whilst sitting in the theatre – perhaps with a stuffy critic or two – for some pretentious play is what some see as the definitive theatre-goer.
Those who have actually been to the theatre recently will know however, that this dated preconception has no weight to it whatsoever.
People very rarely dress up for a night at the theatre anymore, unless it’s a special occasion, i.e. a birthday or anniversary. It’s much more common to see jeans or leggings than a dress or a suit nowadays. Myself; I tend to go with the smart/casual look, but also hold my hand up to having sometimes opted for comfort over appearance – I wore jeans to the Press Night of The Belle’s Stratagem at the Southwark Playhouse last Friday. This is just another side-effect of the development of our modern day society. Gone are the days where theatre was merely for the rich and elite (although recent ticket prices for some productions may argue against this) and was indeed a societal duty almost, that necessitated appropriate dress; now you can turn up there straight from a twelve hour shift at McDonalds and sit in the audience still wearing the uniform if you wanted to.
That’s not to say either that theatre is only for the ‘big people’ of society – children are welcomed at many shows in town. Most will have a rule of age to this, usually from five to six years old, to ensure that the performance is not disrupted however, but again, not everyone has come around to this modern way of thinking about theatre. My mother took my daughter to see Love Never Dies at the Adelphi a few months ago, where they encountered a man who rudely commented that children shouldn’t be allowed at the theatre. My mother retorted that rude people like him shouldn’t be allowed there either and walked off. As a point of note, this same man was caught repeatedly filming the performance that night, whilst my daughter received praise from the theatre-goers around her for how nicely she sat there in her seat, enjoying the show. Perhaps she could have given him a few lessons on theatre etiquette?
Speaking of which, etiquette is another thing which seems to have been lost along the way when it comes to the theatre. Filming and photography during a performance have become a commonplace occurrence, along with talking, eating, drinking and even the occasional display of very public affection – the couple who seem to have a thing for sex in theatre boxes have become quite notorious for their antics now!
Not all audience members are bad-mouthed, disruptive, slovenly people of course, but theatres do see their fair share of them. It just goes to prove that times have changed and theatre has become more accessible to everyone. People from all walks of life are enjoying an experience that used to be limited to a particular social group and in spite of the odd nuisance, that’s a brilliant thing! There is so much on offer in the West End that there will always be something to suit your taste. A play? A musical? An opera? There is something for everyone.
Theatre has widened the doors to allow more people to step inside its world. From children to adults, it can offer a wonderful, magical experience that enriches and broadens the mind. So for those who think that it’s just for the ‘hoity-toity’ of society, dare to peek your head through those doors sometime; what you see may surprise you.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
13th September 2011