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The tradition of the muck-up matinee

There are always serious issues surrounding theatre. Many plays and musicals contain content which is serious, emotional and relevant to problems that exist within our society, and on the industry side of matters, there are issues with actors’ pay, financial investments, platforms for new work and so forth. The entertainment factor of theatre serves to balance this out however, providing audiences with an enjoyable experience and allowing the performers to live out their dream. In musical theatre, even the shows which deal with serious content, like Les Miserables, do so in an entertaining fashion – people may leave sniffling into their tissues, but there will also be a smile on their faces.

One of the most entertaining aspects of musical theatre is the tradition of the ‘muck-up matinee’. On a cast member’s last day, it’s become common for the rest of the cast to do things to ‘muck them up’ during the matinee performance. This can include tricks such as switching costumes, pulling faces or different accents, popping up in scenes they’re not usually in, changing song lyrics, replacing props and so on. The cast are usually very careful to be subtle in what they do and ensure any shenanigans are still in keeping with the running of the show. One great example I heard was from Phantom, in which one of the cast members hid in the boat used in the scene where the Phantom takes Christine down to his lair, surprising the actor playing the Phantom, who then had to get through the title song without letting on that she was there. A muck-up matinee is all about these little in-jokes between the cast and they will often go over the heads of the audiences. Still, there is a question of whether muck-up matinees should go on.

There are those who are very much against the tradition, believing that it can spoil the theatre experience for the audience and that it’s unfair to mess around with the show when people have paid out for tickets.They’ve also accused the performers of just being self-indulgent in their antics, to the detriment of the show. As I previously said, a muck-up matinee is usually very subtle and unnoticeable to anyone not onstage, but if you are an audience member who is very familiar with the show, then you are probably going to pick up on some of it. In that instance, I can understand why those fans wouldn’t enjoy a muck-up matinee as dedicated fans of a particular show are often fiercely protective of it and won’t appreciate seeing it, in their eyes, compromised by the antics of the cast. The answer is pretty simple though: just don’t go. The claim that first-time audience members who find their trip falls on a muck-up matinee will have their first experience of the show ruined is one which, in my opinion, has no merit whatsoever. If you don’t know about the tradition, then you aren’t likely to notice anything amiss and, if you do know about it, then simply avoid that performance if you don’t agree with it.

There are many fans who delight in a muck-up matinee and will book tickets specifically to see that performance, looking out to see just how many of the cast’s tricks they can spot. I’ve never been to one myself but I don’t have an issue with it. It’s a bit of fun for the cast and, as long as it doesn’t detract anything from the performance for the audience, what’s the harm in that?

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Wednesday 25th April 2012


  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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7 thoughts on “The tradition of the muck-up matinee”

  1. Like you I have never attended a “muck-up matinee”, but they sound like a lot of fun, so I will have to make an effort to go to one! I know there are some audience members who take it almost as a personal insult when an actor corpses on stage, too. Personally I have always found myself laughing along with them, and most of those around me also seem to take it as a welcome glimpse of the “human” side of the person cavorting about up there on stage pretending to be someone else. Muck-up matinees seem to be in that vein so personally, I can’t say I’d have a problem with them.

  2. I have been to a muck it up matinee “Tonight’s
    The Night” brilliant fun, great way to “send off”
    A very under appreciated show in my opinion
    And I know a first timer wouldn’t be put off as I was
    Sat next to one who didn’t spot any of the fun stuff
    Get a life I say to the nay sayers, it’s ENTERTAINMENT FOLKS!!!

  3. I have been to a few of these “muck up matinees” and, because I’d been to the shows previously, knew when something was “off.” I love going to these because they are so much fun. The one that stands out in my memory was a Chitty Matinee when most of the cast were leaving but Michael Ball was staying. He pulled a stunt that had the audience laughing like mad. Come to think of it there was some mucking about the night before as well (it was Red Nose day) that caused Brian Blessed to fall to his knees in laughter.

  4. The idea that jokes and gags will be missed by the new or first time audience member is astoundingly arrogant. They have paid an eye watering amount of money for their tickets, paid for a meal and parking or tube and get to see a performance where the cast are uncommitted and uninterested, only caring about making their fellow actors corpse. They’ll leave thinking the show was ok but perhaps just stay in and watch the telly next time. As for your point about not going to that performance, could you just make sure the entire full house knows that this is a jokey performance so they can make an informed decision and ask for a refund. I expect the producer wouldn’t be too happy about that.

  5. I have had the pleasure of attending several muck up matinees and loved every moment of them. Having said that, the shows concerned were light hearted and fun, so the muck ups enhanced the comedy. In fact, the audience were rolling in the aisles.
    However, I can see that there could be problems with shows of a more serious nature, and would assume that few tricks could be played then, and, if they are, at least with discretion.
    For me, though, the whole point of a live show is enjoying the little things that go wrong from time to time, otherwise don’t bother going, just watch the DVD. Performers are human, and if they can’t enjoy a giggle now and again, it’s a sorry state of affairs.

  6. Ive attended a couple of dancing shows where there was muck up matinees and I have to say I really enjoyed them (especially trying to spot all the messing around). The main one was for the Strictly Professional Dancers tour a couple of years ago. The dancers had a whale of a time too and as can be seen and heard by the hysterical laughter in the crowd nearly in the YouTube links available, most if not all the audience got in with the joke too.

    NB. Sorry but video links removed due to possible copyright infringement

  7. WICKED is known for it’s hilarious MUCK UP MATTINEES every time a cast member leaves the show. I remember before Rachel Tucker left the West End cast, she included for the scene when Elphaba melts the famous lines Margret Hamilton said when she melts in THE WIZARD OF OZ (“You Cursed Brat! Look What You’ve Done! I’m MELTING! MELTING!”). Wish they also did it in the States as well for Broadway and National Touring Companies.

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