Richard Griffiths has been at it again! Last year he stopped a performance of The History Boys at the National to berate a member of the audience whose mobile phone kept going off: “I am asking you to stand up, leave this auditorium, and never, ever come back” he told the offender.
Now the actor, currently appearing in Heroes at Wyndham’s, stopped the show again last Saturday when a phone went off repeatedly in the penultimate scene: “Could the person whose mobile phone it is please leave?” And when she got up to do so, he stepped forward and asked her, “Is that it, or will it be ringing some more? The 750 people here would be fully justified in suing you for ruining their afternoon.”
Griffiths was pushed to breaking point, he said afterwards: “It was one of the last scenes of the play and I had already had to restart the speech twice because her phone had gone off. I didn’t say anything until the third time, when I just thought it was too much.”
Mobile phones going off certainly bring breach the fourth wall of the theatre; but Griffiths’ reaction, understandable as it is, no doubt breached it even further. At the RSC, I once saw John Wood stop mid-speech as King Lear, and admonish the audience: “Will you please stop coughing?” And then, after briefly apologizing, he continued.
In the tiny confines of the Donmar, however, I have seen professional audience members frequently falling foul of such strictures. At one recent press night, the offending mobile phone belonged to Evening Standard theatre critic Nicholas de Jongh; at another, Michael Colgan of Dublin’s Gate Theatre phone kept bleeping with the sound of arriving text messages – which he was then observed replying to – thus creating another bleep every time the reply arrived, too! Confronted afterwards by a disgruntled colleague of mine, he told him, “I’m sure Chekhov is robust enough to withstand the intrusion!”
But at least Griffiths will be legally protected when he takes The History Boys to New York next spring. There, it’s illegal to let a phone ring during a performance, and offenders can get fined. “Yes, absolutely fine them £50 and hit them in their pockets,” he says. “Failing that, we could issue people with machetes and tell them to hack other people’s mobile phones to bits when they go off — that should do it.”