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The spread of bad behaviour in the theatre (& a theatre that fails to police it)

I’m not often driven to rage in the theatre, but at Friday’s opening of Robert Wilson’s production of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Theatre I found my patience sorely tested, and I not only reached breaking point, I actually snapped.

The amazing show — part art installation, part minimalist musical meditation, part dance spectacle — is an endurance test to begin with, not least on the bladder, even though a technical breakdown at a clearly shockingly under-prepared Barbican meant an unscheduled break afforded a pee break in the five hour show that is meant to run continuously without an interval.

But at Friday’s performance, there were further trials brought about by the behaviour of the audience, and in particular, one person in the middle of the same row as me, who persistently took flash photographs throughout the performance. It was as blatant and unashamed as could be; she held up the camera and simply flashed away.

At the end of the show, I asked the usher (who had been stationed at the end of my row throughout the performance but had utterly failed to police it) to summons the house manager, so I could point out the offender; but no one materialised. So I confronted the offender myself, going into full Patti LuPone ‘who do you think you are?’ mode as I did so — and receiving a few cheers as the exiting audience babble died down enough for my declaration ‘You stupid woman’ to be heard by everyone around me.

It was only as I was exiting the theatre myself that someone told me exactly who the person thought she was: Bianca Jagger. Who, I was also told, had already been asked to stop by those around her. But clearly she was above it all.

I eventually found the Barbican’s venue manager Fred McDonald, who at first denied being responsible for the house management (though if he wasn’t responsible, who was?), and then insisted that he did know about the problem already — and that she had been spoken to during the earlier break, but he couldn’t be everywhere. However, an usher was in the house and in the same row throughout the performance — but hadn’t acted, either. As it is, too, it shouldn’t have been up to me to remonstrate with her — that’s his job, not mine.

Once I got home, I took to Twitter to express my frustration, and found a lot of support from people who had been similarly affected, some of whom reported also speaking up. But I also caught short by being accused of something even more disturbing: someone who found that those protesting the problem had, in his opinion, caused more disruption that the disruption itself.

“Sorry but those shouting at others to stop taking photos - ie, YOU - were making more of a disruption than the photographers,” someone called Igor Toronyi-Lalic tweeted, whose twitter profile says he’s a music/arts writer for The Times, Telegraph and theartsdesk.com. And he went on to say, “Much more offensive than flash photography are the loud mouth arseholes who shout out ‘STOP TAKING PHOTOS’.”

Actually, that wasn’t me — I didn’t shout anything till afterwards. But never mind: when I in turn posted that I was “amazed that a so-called arts journalist “@igortoronyi is suggesting that trying to prevent photography was more disruptive than offender,” he replied, “Yeah I am! Mouthy complainers disrupted my Minimalism mini-fest in same way. What’s your beef with flash photography?” And then, for good measure, added, “You can’t ALL be epileptic.”

Leaving aside the casual slur on epilepsy, I became genuinely curious how he could maintain that photography is not disruptive, and asked him by twitter direct message. This is not on a public timeline, so I can’t link to his replies, but here’s how the conversation went:



@shentonstage: Do I have to explain why flash photography RUINS the perf for those around you? Really??
@igortoronyi: Yeah I’m sorry you totally do. It’s NEVER bothered me.
@shentonstage: OK, if you don’t get that its disruptive, I can’t get that it’s NOT! As a matter of interest, how do you feel about people texting/surfing web during theatre? Presumably you don’t find that disruptive either?
@igortoronyi: I have a problem with excess. But a few photos, a few tweets. Who cares?

I have subsequently checked his twitter timeline, and it turns out that he actually live tweeted during the show after its breakdown, reporting,”Shambles here at the Barbican. Show’s restarted without half audience.”

It’s a pity that the half that remained, though, included Bianca Jagger. And in her own public tweet timeline, she insisted in a reply to someone who complained about her behaviour, “You are making allegations without proof, many around me where taking pic. It’s not a crime 2 take pic during curtain call.” Which isn’t, in fact, what she was doing: I had seen her taking pictures regularly throughout the show with my own eyes!

And then she played the victim, a classic defence move, replying in turn: “Do u approve of the abusive behaviour of the man who pushed me around & insulted me at the theatre last night? Without proof.” For the record, I did not touch her. At all. I will, however, freely admit to deliberately insulting her. I’m glad she so obviously heard it.

I have also written to the Barbican’s managing director Nicholas Kenyon, director of programming Louise Jeffreys and head of theatre Toni Racklin regarding what happened. Jeffreys has already responded to promise a full investigation into the front-of-house issues. I await it with interest.

As for the technical problems, it seems like they were fixed by the second performance. How do I know? Igor Toronyi-Lalic went back for more — and tweeted on Saturday night, “Well they sure turned it around. Night two of @EinsteinBeach and all major glitches have been erased. A fantastic performance.” And no Bianca Jagger taking photographs either, presumably. Not that he would have noticed if there was…. unless someone disrupted his own “minimalism mini-fest” by daring to complain about it.


Editor’s note, May 11: Mark has written an update to this story, including responses from other publications. As such, comments on this post will be closed, but remain open on the follow-up column.

69 Comments

Good blog. I once had a row with an ex girlfriend because I wouldn't let her take photos in a show; think it was Mamma Mia. I had to resort to taking it off her. There was no easy I was going to let her do it. She didn't like it much at the time!

I agree theatre staf seem much more lax than they used to be. They need to be bold and feel free to remove offenders. Tolerance cannot be allowed to continue!

The Barbican is notoriously bad for poor front of house. They let latecomers in at completely inappropriate times and I don't think the ushers are ever briefed. Perhaps they are unpaid volunteers???? Cost-cutting is one thing but it's not good for a supposedly world-class concert and theatre venue.

PS I wonder if they monitor/listen to social media comment? If so, they might just identify this as an improvement issue.

Bravo Mark for tackling the offender.

I had similar problems in Manchester recently during Oliver! and The Phantom of the Opera with extensive use of mobiles during both shows and in Oliver! in particularly several photographers, none of which was tackled by the ushers except when I specifically complained. This widespread failure needs to be tackled and sorted.

Incidentally, my group were shouted at by other audience members at Phantom for standing up...............during the curtain calls!!!

I think you were quite right to speak up. While I agree with Igor that intervening in such a situation during a show COULD be disruptive, addressing the issue in the interval/at the end of a show is certainly acceptable.

Furthermore, Igor may wish to add "migraine sufferers" to his list of people about whom he makes casual slurs. I suffer from migraines, triggered by bright light, and I can assure him that repeated, unexpected bursts of light from flash photography in a darkened room can turn theatre-going into an altogether unpleasant experience.

Quite apart from anything else, many performers are on record as saying they find photography during a show distracting. And in physical acts - eg magic, circus skills, dancing - being momentarily blinded by flash photography could be downright dangerous.

Reminds me of the Pam Ann meltdown at her show at UCL Bloomsbury Theatre last week. Audiences are just out of control! People in 'First Class' - front two rows - kept getting up and going for drinks or to the loo. Pam Ann berated them twice in a comic fashion, then she got serious and said she'd throw the next bastard out. Not 5 minutes later someone was up and out of their seat! She summoned theatre staff and had them 'downgraded' to Economy.

She got a standing ovation. She apologised to the audience -'sorry for losing it, it's so hard to concentrate with all the up and down, I just want to give you a good show'.

Of course the 'proper' audience members loved every minute of it, and were grateful she actually did something about it. And at least the Bloomsbury staff were responsive. Theatre management must grow a spine! I pay good money to watch/hear what's on stage - NOT what's happening in the audience.

Generally speaking, I think a mention in theatre etiquette in programmes is needed. In performances my pet hate is constant talking, bringing in smelly food, unwrapping noisy sweet wrappers etc., which all go, IMO, to spoil a performance. I know some Juke Box Musicals require a lovely noisy involved and engaged audience, which is fine, but my other pet hate in non Juke Box Musicals is the X-Factor-type cheering and clapping you get on the money note before the song has actually finished.
Flash photography I think should be a complete no-no, and I'm surprised to read here that it was allowed - and well done to Mark for challenging it - for me theatre is all about escapism, with each technical element of it lifting you up and taking you somewhere with the performance, and to have someone flashing away with a camera in the audience just brings you straight back down to earth again and spoils the performance that everyone on and off stage is working hard to deliver to you.
Apologies if this makes me sound like a right old theatre snob, not my intention, but I think the whoops, cheers and shouting should all be left to after a number has finished, or the final bows.

You are absolutely right, Mark. Such behaviour has to stop. And it doesn't matter a jot whether someone is well known or not. There are copyright issues too in taking photographs etc.

It needs everyone who sees/hears/is aware of it to make a stand as you did. Takes courage but must be done. Then perhaps FoH will get the message and be more supportive.

Well done Mark. It's got to the point that we get nervous to go to the West End, especially at the weekend, as you are waiting for some idiot to chat, text, tweet, go to the loo, etc during the performance.

Do audiences really need to be told that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable? Honestly, people must know they shouldn't be doing these things, I suppose they just think, well no-one's told me not to, therefore it must be ok.

In our experience, fringe audiences are so much better behaved.

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Something that really annoys me - and it's getting more prevalent - is people taking drinks into the auditorium that contain ice. I remember a performance of Britannicus at the Albery when I had a party of four sitting behind me who all had their gin and tonics, making in necessary for Racine to do battle with ice cubes every time one of them lifted their elbow!

Talking of notoriety, btw, Igor T-I is well known as a bit of a plonker, with an aptitude for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He's probably trying to prove that so religious was the experience that even a bomb going off wouldn't have affected his concentration. His artistic sensitivities might have been tested if he'd been sitting next to the lady and the boot would now be on the other foot!

Can I just add that at the cinema yesterday, not only were they eating the noisiest and smelliest foods available and slurping a bucket of coke in the seats around me - there was a woman painting her nails and using the light from her phone to help her. The staff did nothing. I rarely go to the cinema but do go to the theatre a lot - and it is all about escapism. I don't want to be brought back to reality by the inadequacies of the audience. But good on you for tolerating it and then reprmanding afterwards

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I had similar experiences at the Queens Theatre for Les Mis and ROH for Don Giovanni and Peter Grimes. Like you I dealt with them myself assisted by my boyfriend at the ROH. Very often ushers are unwilling to confront the general public about their behaviour. At the opera house the people sitting round us thanked us for our intervention but would probably have done nothing themselves. With the cost of the theatre tickets rocketing out of control this type of occurrence has to be stamped out.


I managed the house at the Cambridge Arts theatre for four years and would never have allowed such activity . It is difficult sometimes to reach a perpetrator in the middle of a row but a strong torch beam to the face usually succeeds.

Well done you.

Agree its totally annoying. My experience is that flash works for up to 2m so all you get on your flash setting is 2m of audience heads. So annoying everyone like this is a complete waste of time. I dont use flash, sit in the back row with camera settings on silent, get good results and hopefully dont annoy anyone...?

Having been a paid usher in a theatre where flash photography is not allowed, it is relatively difficult to police. You can be aware of a flash, but unless you see the flash happen in a dark theatre it can be difficult to identify who has taken the photograph. Even if you can identify the person, asking a row of people to stand to reach the photographer, or talking across the row, seems to me more disruptive than someone than taking a photo. The interval or end of show is the best time to speak to them, and I've worked in some theatres where photographs are deleted afterwards. It sounds like Jagger's photography was more excessive, though, than photographers I have encountered.

I also think though that theatre is becoming a much more socially interactive experience. To avoid becoming a socially archaic and alientating place to be entertained, the theatre does need to re-address its etiquette. Behaviour will become more permissive, I think, but these changes will need to be signposted to its patrons: "Ladies and gentlemen; during this performance flash photography and the use of mobile phones is actively encouraged".

@John East: The trouble with this particular performance is that there was no (scheduled) interval; the performance was due to run CONTINUOUSLY for five hours.... In fact, there turned out to be an unscheduled break when the set broke down, so this is presumably when the Barbican did indeed confront her (they said).... but then somehow expected her to behave without monitoring the situation further, while she clearly thought she was above such restrictions.

In fact, it WASN'T difficult to CLEARLY identify her -- she was brazen about it -- but also it wouldn't have been difficult for an usher to go down the row and deal with it: given the lack of an interval, people were coming and going throughout (a distraction, certainly, but inevitable), so an usher could have done so. The Barbican also has sufficient leg room to allow people to pass without anyone needing to get up as they do so....

I have been recently to several of the Globe to Globe shows, and the Globe FOH staff (I think volunteers) are very good at handling photography (flash or not) and many other issues tactfully and efficiently. There is no reason why other venues shouldn't train their staff accordingly. Signage and announcements can help - if displayed and played at the appropriate places and times. And if we are disturbed we should complain. If it is done politely and firmly it can be effective, though inevitably sometimes people react badly.

I sit rather short and am also disturbed (visually !) by large hairstyles and sometimes by snogging couples. I can't do much about the hair, but I do ask snoggers to stop if they are blocking my view !

Brilliant you confronted her, someone had to do it.

This week at a Performance in Southampton, I witnessed an usher fly down the aisle at the speed of light from the other side of the theatre, and push a mans camera into his lap that he had at head height, screen glaring taking pictures of the Curtain Call. Needless to say he didn't try again. So much better than the usual polite pleading from the side that you normally see. I laughed, but was very impressed!

The spread of bad behaviour, indeed.

A couple of months ago, I produced a show called Happy New at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London. At the performance on 15 March, an audience member came on stage during the interval and started knocking over and trashing the set, for no explainable reason. This was reported in whatsonstage.com and in Michael Coveney's follow-up blog post:

http://www.whatsonstage.com/news/theatre/off-west+end/E8831331897266/Theatregoers+'terrified'+as+vandal+runs+amok+at+Old+Red+Lion.html

http://www.whatsonstage.com/blog/theatre/london/E8831332146749/Audience+member+goes+berserk.html

In fact several papers (e.g. the Standard and the Islington Gazette ) wanted to report it. It was a good news story.

The venue's owner refused to let anyone talk to the press. He refused to try and identify the culprit by viewing the pub's own CCTV footage of him running out of the pub. He did nothing to increase security. He never once expressed regret that this had happened at his venue, or any concern whatsoever for the safety of the actors and stage manager, who were in a dressing room backstage about 10 feet away from this incident. In short, he behaved as if nothing had happened.

When I complained to him by e-mail about what had happened and about the general problem of people texting and chatting during performances, he replied by e-mail accusing me of showing "prejudice towards his theatre patrons"!

I suppose some theatres are so desperate to sell tickets that they will go to any extreme to avoid policing audiences.

Having seen some of Toronyi Lalic's screeds it is no surprise that he has little understanding of audience and of the artistic experience. Hopefully those who use him will review their employment of him in favour of someone who has a greater understanding of what they are watching.

Bravo, Mr Shenton!

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Audience behaviour appalling, and it is disintegrating, so it's good some people are brave enough to speak up!!
I was at Singin' in the Rain last week, and after ten minutes of constant chatter behind me had passed, I finally turned round to the ladies in the row behind and said (making sure I was calm and polite) said "excuse me, your talking is very distracting". They looked shocked, and one of them said "what did he say"... and her friend said in a very hoi-tee-toi voice "apparently our talking is distracting".
Disgraceful that audiences think theatre is like watching TV at home when it's ok to talk over the performance as you wish.
Is society dumbing down so much that we are getting close to theatres adding to the mobile pre show announcement 'please be considerate to your fellow patrons and refrain from talking during the performance"...!

I went to see a performance of Les Mis last week. A woman was listening to her voicemail in the middle of 'Bring Him Home' which could be clearly heard by all those sat around her. We confronted her once the song had finished and she said in her 'how dare you confront me' voice that it was a very important message and it was none of our business what she did. Well actually it is our business when you're ruining our experience of the show. RUDE.

The chap who sat next to me at the same performance kept flicking through his programme backwards and forwards (for 2 and a half hours!!!) which was equally distracting. Not reading it I might add (too dark), just swishing through its bright white eye catching pages out of some kind of nervous habit.

Likewise, people who get their phones out and check for texts or emails drive me to dispair. Whilst they might be silent, the glare of the bright light is just as distracting making you look to see what has suddenly lit up.

I just can't bear it and agree with Toni that it makes me apprehensive going to the West End as you don't know if the £60 of your hard earned money spent on a ticket will be wasted by some idiot sat near to you who has no respect for the individuals around them or the incredible work and energy the performers are investing in entertaining everyone.

Also agree that Fringe audiences are very well behaved. Maybe because Fringe is frequented more often than not by people heavily interested in the theatre, the audiences have a lot more respect over and above people who go only occasionally. But still, surely common sense and common courtesy prevail?!

Please can someone tell me, WHY go to the theatre if you're not watching it?!! WHY go to the theatre if you don't want to immerse yourself in it? WHY waste the money?! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

Worst experience for me was at a musical, the 'lady' sitting next to me sang all the songs. Which may have helped the mother sitting behind me, to explain what was happening on stage to her little boy for the whole show.

It always used to be written on the tickets as a condition of sale that all photography is forbidden. It is published still on the website :

https://www.barbican.org.uk/eticketing/conditions-of-sale

The theatre does reserve the right to film the audience. I doubt the photographer was part of the show itself or there by request. I'd expect promotional shots by arrangement at rehearsal only.

Well done for speaking up Mark and appalling that you didn't get support from the staff. Just to join what is becoming a very depressing list of bad behaviour experiences, I had a woman next to me texting all the way through the first act of Hairspray and she didn't even turn off the beeb beeb sound. But that is nothing compared to the woman behind me once who was cutting her toenails. In the interval sure, but really? Toenails? When I gave her my most withering of looks she turned to her companion and said, "What's his problem?

I have two daughters at dance school and we are always told before performances that not only is photography distracting, but where children are involved it actually contravenes child protection legislation. Worth remembering if anyone is ever confronted with this problem at say Matilda or Billy Elliott. I pretty sure that a theatre manager would move pretty quickly if informed that he was party to actual law breaking.

@Tony Peters -- there *is* actually a young boy in the show, so if pictures were taken when he was onstage, that could have given rise to exactly this.

I am a frequent audience member, and an occasional reviewer. I also work as a volunteer steward at Shakespeare's Globe, and was pleased to see our efforts recognissed in an earlier comment. We are briefed before every show, including the photography ban, and now tweeting too. We are well supported by the FOH staff in case of "difficult" patrons. Ours is a difficult venue, open air, like a concert or festival, with plenty of tourists in the mix. If we can do it ...

My own worst moment recently was a child in the row behind scraping an empty ice-cream tub throughout a solo number. I shouldn't have ... but I did, I reached back and removed the tub, to the obvious displeasure of the child and her mother. Fortunately, she didn't sue me.

Bravo Mark for intervening. People have got into the habit of filming and taking pictures at music venues and think the same lack of rules apply in theatres.

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Mark Shenton is attempting to justified his physical assault & abusive behaviour towards me at the opening of Einstein on the Beach by saying: 'I found my patience sorely tested, and I not only reached breaking point, I actually snapped'. His behaviour is objectionable and I am surprised by all those who without knowing the facts will justified such abusive behaviour. I thought that violence is always condemned.

I snapped a couple of photographs during curtain call, many others were taking photographs during the performance. You must understand that Einstein on the Beach is a brilliant, extraordinary and unconventional production in Four Acts by Robert Wilson, Philip Glass and Lucinda Child. It last 5 hours without intermission, the audience is invited to enter and exit during the performance.
Mark Shenton pushed everyone in the row where I was sitting, before assaulting me.

I am sure he will delete my comment, because he doesn't want you to know the facts,

Bianca Jagger

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I personally don't understand why a venue such as the Barbican seem to be turning a blind eye here and ignoring the huge influence Mr Shenton has over the UK theatre scene. I shall certainly think twice before paying to visit THERE again.

I have to say, I saw Avenue Q many moons ago and during a quiet scene the phone of the lady sat next to me went off purely by accident, she was hugely embarrassed ad apologetic, and yet the usher was round like a shot. Similarly, people taking photographs BEFORE the performance even began were reprimanded. Obviously Wyndhams need to show others how it's done!

@Bianca Jagger: Mark hasn't deleted your comment, as you predicted he would. But he very specifically insists in his blog that he didn't touch you. You, on the other hand, explicitly accuse him of violence and physical assault. These are serious accusations. There were presumably a lot of witnesses, and Mark says many of them applauded him for loudly criticising your behaviour. For those of us who weren't there, it's difficult to reconcile the two accounts of the same incident. Are you absolutely certain you want to accuse him of violent assault? If so, did you complain to the ushers? Mark also says you persistently took flash photographs throughout the performance, whereas you say you "snapped a couple of photographs during curtain call". Does that mean you didn't take any photographs in the rest of the show? Do please clarify.

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Shame on you Bianca Jagger. You are publicly accusing someone of 'Physical Assault and Abusive Behaviour'.

I have to admit, you may well have got some abuse from me, had I been unfortunate enough to be party to your unruly behavior in the theatre, however, an accusation of physical assault is an extremely serious matter.

Personally I think it highly unlikely that had such an event happened. In a very public arena, it would not have been dealt with by authorities present at the time, and extensively reported in the media.

That being the case, I should like to suggest that either you provide evidence to back up your slur - photographic no doubt - or retract it, and give Mr Shenton a full and genuine apology, and whilst you are at it, perhaps you could also apologies to those other theatre-goers whose enjoyment of the performance you so evidently ruined.

The previous comment was originally submitted under the name "Bianca Jagger", despite clearly not being from her. I have removed that name.

I would counsel everyone to make sure that their comments are in line with our house rules. Some are already sailing close to the wind. Mark has raised an issue which several people clearly feel strongly about -- but it's an issue which is best tackled if we can keep an air of civility.

Thanks.

Scott Matthewman
Online Editor, The Stage

Shame on you Ms Jagger (to coin a phrase).Oh - and the Barbican staff who should have endorsed camera and other recording policies which are universal as far as I know.Or was this Ms Jagger's first visit to a Theatre and missed the announcements? It's selfish and arrogant to the extreme.I can only comment on what I read here as I did not attend the performance.However when I attended "The Ladykillers" (3rd row o/s)after the Interval a large lady moved down to occupy a seat behind and chomped on the noisiest,crunchiest items which would have been heard on by the cast.Nothing was done,and piercing glares from me did not work but I didn't speak to her as this would've worsened the situation. Ushers should be seen to do their job as there is supposed to be a presence in the auditorium.

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The answer to the increasing problem of audience distractions must lie in a combination of enforcement and education. An industry-wide initiative from managements (who have brought parts of the problem on themselves) is overdue

a) These are all such first world middle class problems. YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY OR THIRSTY THIS IS GENUINELY AMAZING. Flash photography is annoying but you have to be in a pretty privileged situation in life to actually be in the presence of a cameras!
b) Did you stop to think how annoyed audience members may have been with staff pushing past them to reach the 'flasher'.
c) Perhaps front of house staff/management were not properly briefed by the company. I know it's really cool to blame stuff on management right now but in my experience creative people can make mistakes too and actually we all make mistakes.
d) Don't take it out on the people in uniforms, it's so easy to but in my experience front of house staff are often better educated than the audience that abuse them. It is very difficult to make a living in the creative industries and most people who are not naturally rich have to take jobs on the side.

I conclusion mistakes are GREAT they make us human, and life is annoying but I really think perspective is important. Relaxed theatre goers tend to enjoy themselves more.

Anonymous is straight out of Private Eye's Pseud's Column. Mark did the right thing. I just wish I'd been there with my camera to snap him giving flashy Jagger a good telling off.

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@ Scott Matthewman Online Editor, The Stage. My apologies Scott.

It was me, Richard Voyce who posted the 'False Name Submitted' comment. I had accidentally read the 'Name' bit to mean Subject, and entered Bianca Jagger. I'd just got up. Sorry. The thought of me trying to pass myself off as Bianca Jagger would doubtless amuse anyone who knows me... Very sorry, no intention to mislead was intended, and also apologies to Ms Jagger if anyone read the post as thinking it was from her.

No worries, Richard.

The warning about house rules was a more general one to all concerned, really. We don't like stepping in and policing comments, and as long as everyone is civil and within the house rules there shouldn't be any need for us to have to.

Incidentally, in the past week I've been to Ute Lemper at the Union Chapel, where a portly gentleman in the second row insisted on trying to take photos throughout – but hadn't quite worked out how to use the camera function on his iPhone, so took several minutes for each shot. This meant the rest of us had this bright screen glaring out at us while he lined up his photo. If I'd been directly behind him I would have taken action but when someone's several rows away it's tough.

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As a theatre critic in the Bournemouth area, the increasingly thoughtless and selfish behaviour of audiences has long been one of my pet rants - but Mark's experience takes the subject to a new level. What is it with people who don't know how to behave and have so little consideration for others? Will Bianca Jagger be selling her photographs, and, if so, why was she not at a press call or the dress rehearsal rather than a performance?
I believe there will come a point when serious theatregoers forsake the West End - although sadly there will still be those prepared to fork out £60+ to ruin other people's evenings.
I have long since given up the West End for the fringe, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. As others have pointed out, one needs to become immersed in what is happening on stage to get full value out of it, and that is becoming a near impossibility in mainstream theatres.

@FrankBall

In my experience, the Barbican is not 'notoriously bad for poor front of house', nor do they 'let latecomers in at completely inappropriate times'. To the best of my knowledge, latecomer points in almost all theatres are agreed (or set) by the producing company, not arbitrarily by the ushers. In fact, in my experience, the hardest part of any theatre usher job tends to be dealing with a minority of extremely rude, arrogant and selfish patrons who arrive late and expect to be slotted in at their convenience and become irate when their wishes are not met (not to mention the even smaller minority who physically push ushers aside to get to the door).

As for the show under discussion, I actually attended the same performance of Einstein on the Beach as Mr Shenton and I have to say that it was perhaps one of the worst behaved theatre audiences I have encountered for some time. There was often incessant chatter throughout the 'knee plays' and a lot of people taking video and photographs (although very few using flashes, unlike the repeat offender discussed here). And whilst perhaps something could have been done about Ms. Jagger (who was seemingly only a couple of rows back), there is a point at which audience members must take responsibility for themselves and think about how their actions affect those around them. After all, the arrogance of one audience member is hardly the fault of the usher.

Nevertheless, I would also suggest that, despite the flash photography, incessant chatter and legion of technical hitches during the first night of Einstein, the brilliance of the show really shone through - a theatrical tour de force which deserves to be seen (albeit without occasional flashing and precarious flying scaffolds, where possible!)

I think the briefing that ushers get is to let people in at the first break in the performance, irrespective of the appropriateness. That's a management issue and requires some sensitivity and judgement. I saw a Sibelius symphony at the Barbican where at the quiet end of the first movement, a hoard of latecomers poured into the auditorium and completely disrupted the performance. It included an elderly couple who noisily and obliviously struggled their way into the middle of the front row to the clear annoyance of the conductor who held the break for minutes until things had settled down. Very poor housekeeping. Not the usher's fault, as you say. Policy used to be to allow latecomers to creep into the back row with some seats kept available for the purpose. Abuse of ushers by audience members who can't arrive on time is another unfortunate symptom of the bad behaviour that is being discussed here and nobody should be subjected to that at work.

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It increasingly confuses me as to why people insist on paying large sums of money to sit and talk - why pay when you can do it for free outside? Hell - you can probably even smoke!
I don't consider myself that old (I'm in my mid 20s), but I struggle to work out what's so different in my upbringing than some of these people that they can't sit still and quietly for a couple of hours? Whether it be the cinema or the theatre, if you can't manage 2 hours without talking, eating or going to the toilet, maybe you left reception class a bit too early.

I'm going to see Sweeney Todd (one of my favourite shows) this week - I've had to work hard for the ticket and I'm ashamed to say that I will not be one of those people that puts up with this behaviour. I'm gonna get a smack one of these days, but hey - I'm doing it for what I love!

Something needs to be done to make people aware of how disruptive and insensitive their behaviour can be. There's little we can do to pull these people's heads out of their arses, but instead of sitting quietly and grumbling after the incident is passed, more of us need to confront and let them know this is not acceptable - you never know, that little light may jump from their camera to their head!

I'm going to defend Ms. Jagger here. I was there and I only saw the use of flash during the curtain call. I think a lot of what has been said here doesn't really understand the nature of this particular performance. While I don't condone the use of flash photography (it wasn't necessary as the stage was fully lit at the time) the audience were indeed invited to come and go as they pleased. Disruption in any conventional sense was to be expected.

There were a lot of people taking photographs at the curtain call. The use of flash (which I did notice from my cheaper seat in the gallery) was apparent, but surely a careless error at worst. The idea that it somehow detracted from the performance, certainly any more than the dreadful technical hiccups, is a fanciful notion. I think sometimes there are a few over eager goers who like to tell those they consider to be less well healed audience members how it's done. It is true that sometimes their intervention is more disruptive the matter they are addressing. In particular the comments from the volunteer member of staff who attends the Globe snatching ice cream cartons from small children - I though one of the remits of the Globe was to recreate an 'authentic' Elizabethan experience. No doubt I'll be told this is a common misconception, but it is a concept nonetheless.

I wonder how troubled the authors and creators of Friday night's performance were by this abominable intrusion were (they were there at the time). Not so much as some of those above who for the most part were not present.

My only criticism of Ms Jagger would be that her efforts were probably in vain. Unless she was using an extremely powerful flash, I doubt that her photographs from the centre Stalls would have come out...

This is all very disturbing. We visited New York City last weekend with friends and saw 5 Broadway shows. We didn't have a single disruption in any of the theatres. We are coming to London at the end of August to see several shows in the West End. I hope the examples presented here are truly exceptions rather than an emerging trend. I have so much respect for the actors, creative teams, and technical crews that make all theatre "happen" that I want their intended presentation and message to reach me and without distraction by surrounding idiots.

I was sitting a few rows behind a person who appears to fit the description and reported location of Jagger, although I didn't see her face (and wouldn't have recognised it anyway).

On several occasions during the performance (no, not the curtain calls) this person held her phone up in the air, where it would clearly be in the sight-line between the people behind her and the stage. The flash was bright enough and close enough that it would have been offputting to the performers. It was very annoying and distracting to those of us sitting nearby - although probably not so much for those who were further away.

I am not sure why some people think this kind of rude, selfish behaviour is more acceptable in this performance than one of an opera or play from an earlier period of history. Would they be equally ok with people in the front row standing up and taking flash photos in Hamlet's face mid-soliloquy?

If I had been sitting within arm's reach of her, I'd have grabbed her phone and confiscated it until the end, same as I would when taking children on a school trip.

I am a real stickler for manners and etiquete at the theatre (and the cinema actually). I cannot abide any form of disruptive behaviour that might spoil the show. Last night I too a friend to see Wicked for the first time. We had excellent, central seats in the stalls- a real prime spot. It should have been perfect, but while we both did LOVE the show, I was distracted throughout by people with no care of how to behave. To our left were two Spanish ladies who conferred throughout the show in none-too-hushed tones. One on them then decided to start texting ten minutes before the show finished! In front of us the row was filled with teenagers who clearly had no real interest in being there- they whispered and passed sweets at odd intervals; one girl found it HILARIOUS that her seat squeaked when she moved and repeatedly demonstrated the fact to her friends, andother young may- and I kid you not- spent the entire second act looking around him at anything BUT the stage. Another girl to my right also felt the need to text through the latter part of the evening. I agree that firmer measures should be taken regarding electronic devices in theatres but I am not sure that it is just down to theatres to resolve the issue of social etiquette and manners.

I must confess to being told off on a school trip to Regents Park open air theatre in the early 70s, when I was part of group giggling and not paying attention (it was raining which didn't help). I've been immaculately behaved in adulthood so maybe we should make some concessions for immaturity. It's the adults and old people like Bianca Jagger who should know better. The older generation, tut - no manners any more.

For what it's worth: I was sat in the front row of the circle of Friday night's opening of Einstein on the beach. At the start of the scene involving two people on the back of the train, certainly not curtain call, someone in the middle section of row D of the stalls starting taking photos. How do I know this? I remember thinking ,'Wow' if there was anytime to start taking pictures this would not be one of them. After a substantial visual feast of good lighting and technical faults including stage hands wandering about, this was probably the worst scene to photograph. Suitably annoyed I took a photo at the end of the show which captures the back and position on the errant photographer. Whoever it was or wasn't I don't really care. Storm in a tea cup! that said the news coverage has kept me amused all day.

If Ms Jagger believes she was physically assaulted then I am sure she will report this to the police and Mr Shenton will hear about it. If she doesn't believe it then she won't, I await to see if she does this or if she finds an excuse not to do so.

'andother young may- and I kid you not- spent the entire second act looking around him at anything BUT the stage'

I think this says it all, people are so obsessed by what others are doing. Ho did you know they were watching anything but the stage, you must have been watching the 'young may" (SIC) in question

Guys you should really calm down...I am stunned by how people can get so indignated for something that happened in a theatre...you should address all this negative energy and criticism for more serious stuff...This does not mean that I don t understand art and I don t care about it. I love it! I loved Einstein! Next time try to relax before you go to the theatre, I am sure you ll enjoy more

What a brilliant piece of writing.

Robert Wilson is a crap director. He's a former scenery designer. He couldn't direct vivid action even if there was an actual fire on the stage. How anyone ever asked this twit to direct a 4.5 hour opera is beyond all belief. One day someone will actually notice that everything Wilson directs is garbage. His MADAM BUTTERFLY here in Moscow at the Bolshoi is one of the worst shows it's ever been my misfortune to behold.

The woman is a fool. Taking photographs during a performance is not only arrogant but dangerous. It only takes a dancers concentration to be broken by a flash of light in a darkened auditorium for them to miss their footing and fall. Result: injury. Its incredibly distracting for actors and singers too.

Ive often commented on my review blog about the appalling behaviour from audience members:

The two drunken cretins swilling wine from a bottle and shelling pistachio nuts during a performance of the ballet version of Cinderella

The man playing with his new iPad during Don Giovanni

The mobile phone that went off near the front of the auditorium during Hamlet's dying speech.

The group of teenagers texting each other in the front row during My Fair Lady

The class of students talking to each other and sniggering loudly at any percevied sexual references in The Tempest in the row behind me

The parents letting their child run up and down an empty row of seats during the performance,,,,,,,

The West End Whingers guffawing loudly and chatting animatedly to each other during a performance of Sondheim's "Passion"

Oh, and the CAST of the RSC's version of The Taming of the Shrew whipping up a hate campaign when I gave their production a poor review!

What would John Cage think?

Cage, who once said something to the effect that you should get to the point where the telephone is not an interruption. Just substitute "flash photography" for "telephone". Cage would.

This isn't as far fetched as you may think. Robert Wilson has acknowledged the influence of Merce Cunningham on his work, and, by extension, that influence would include John Cage.

With "Einstein" having been from the beginning a work in which the audience's response - and conflict between audience members - has been part of its DNA, had I been there I'm sure I would have tried to make like Cage and see it all as part of the epic riddle.

Hi, I'm the "arsehole who shouted out STOP TAKING PHOTOS” last Friday. I was sat three rows behind her so it was quite a shout. I made it good and loud so she could hear. And she did. And she stopped. Stupid selfish arrogant artless tourist. I would have had her chucked out. It's rude to the performers, it's rude to the rest of the audience, and its infuriating to me to have my visual field shattered and my theatrical bubble burst, especially in such a special meditative work. She was ruining my evening just as much as if she'd sat next to me loudly humming the tunes or eating her crisps.

She didn't just take one or two during the curtain call, she was snapping away before the (enforced) interval. She'd taken three photos with a flash and a glowing screen before I told her to stop doing it. I shouted as she was raising her camera to take another one ('oh my god, the woman on stage has raised a gun - quick, must take a photo of that'. For fooks sake how bored was this woman?) She heard me, she did stop - for a couple of hours, then she did it again (short term memory issues?). Only one other person took a photo that I noticed. Stupid selfish arrogant artless people don't apologise because they're, well, stupid selfish arrogant and artless.

Did Bianca actually buy her ticket? Or is she one of those freeloading celebs who get invited to Barbican first nights just because they are on the list and therefore, unlike those of us who actually fork out to pay, have no investment whatsoever in what they are watching.

I've removed a couple of "comedy" comments (posted by the same person clearly posing as other people, but with the intent that we publish a link to his blog) from this blog post. While not against the letter of our house rules as currently worded, they were certainly against their spirit.

Bravo Mark. Going to the theatre recently has become somewhat of an ordeal. A lot of people's behaviour is at times hard to believe. I was recently watching a production of "Calendar Girls" when a member of the audience repeatedly shouted "Get em' off", again this went unchallenged. The Gentleman involved was old enough to know better in my view. If it isn't people heckling actors it's members of the audience who sit and have to eat sweets and crisps. The show's in the main are only a couple of hours long (with might I add an interval). But people are clearly starving and feel the need to sit munching away without much regard for the people sat around them.
Theatre tickets continue to get more expensive yet the theatre's themselves seem not to care that you may well be sitting next to a "Grazer". I adore the theatre but unfortunately it's the audience's I'm growing to dislike. I hope your blog helps highlight this issue and begins to act.

A couple of years ago during the RSC Histories I found myself sitting beside an amazing director whom I admire greatly. I had a Blackberry at the time and to my horror, during a quiet scene, that standard ringtone sounded from the direction of my handbag on the floor. I grabbed my bag, panicked, and got very flustered trying to locate my phone. I got shushed by a lot of people, and many dirty looks (from everyone except the director, who remained calm) and nearly died in my seat of embarrassement... When I finally found my phone it was switched off and couldnt have rung. It wasn't me! Only it was too late to tell that to all the people around me and the actors on stage. Definitely the worst theatre going moment of my life, so I cannot understand how anyone would get themselves into such a situation voluntarily. I aged a decade through sheer shame!
BTW in the interval said director fished his coat from the floor, took out his Blackberry and checked his messages... He'd had a missed call...

Dear Mark,

I applaud your fight to maintain the unique equilibrium that theatre needs to work.

I know your battle at the Barbican was against someone taking photographs but it's all the same thing really.

Anecdotally, over the past few years I have noticed a militant individualism creeping into many theatregoers regarding their mobile phones.

This is what I observe: when the prohibitive announcement is played before a show the majority of people turn their phones onto silent. This allows them to keep an eye on their phones, check emails, and distract other people when the light flashes (and buzzes) as text messages come through.

If you ask people to turn OFF their phone they look at you with a mixture of aggression and scorn. Like you I have been accused of assault, in this instance for placing a pen lightly on someone's hand to get their attention and stop them actually speaking on the phone. Recently after I asked a lady to stop searching the internet on her phone during a show her partner threatened me as the show finished. The level of anger reveals the degree of compulsion people have for these objects.

I am resigned to watching gigs now through a phalanx of arms held aloft with people trying to film the event. They're not actually watching the concert - because after a sequence of filming they then spend all their time trying to share the experience (on facebook or myspace or whatever) they could be having whilst they're missing it.

Apparently we have the technology to create a bouncing of phone signals in the theatres. It would be good to look at why this isn't being employed.

I know that once people - myself included - are unstrapped from these addictive and delightful portals they are able to more fully give themselves actively to the theatre experience. The restless twitching and tweeting, texting and re-checking is a sad contemporary tic of what we have allowed to happen. Theatre is good medicine if we can passionately create the right culture for live performance to work by really paying attention, fully in the moment.

Keep fighting the fight!

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I agree with everything Ian Rickson says.

The withering look I have routinely used to discourage an ever-widening range of distractions has become less and less effective in the past year or two.

A few days ago, I remonstrated after the show with a young woman who had repeatedly ignored such visual signals and my eventual gentle tap on the wrist. She told me in no uncertain terms that (a) she hadn't liked the show and (b) as she had paid to see it she was ******* entitled use her phone to text as much as she ******* wanted.

I've experienced similar responses from ice rattlers and bottle quaffers who these days are seemingly unable to survive an hour without dehydrating.

I repeat my earlier comment that audience behaviour is something on which managements should together be leading an initiative. The longer it is left, the harder it will be to come anywhere near to solving a worsening problem.

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I am a 22 year old up-start who paid £125 to watch "Einstein" last Friday. It was the most expensive ticket I have ever bought. However I was happy to pay for it on the anticipation that I would experience the most accomplished theatrical work of the last century. Instead of that there was (as mentioned above) a repeat-offender-flash-photographer, flashing throughout the ENTIRE performance. I know this as I was in the middle seat of the front row of the Dress circle - the flash was a distraction even at this height.

Aside from the technical faults, the opera is an endurance task for the performers and the on-going annoyance clearly broke their concentration: singers missing their cues, dancers losing their balance etc. They must have been furious at being periodically stunned by a philistine; who only got more snap-happy as the performance ran. I dont mean to say that she was the sole reason for this happening - she wasnt - however it didnt help.

I consider it a huge privilege that I have watched "Einstein", albeit a slightly skewed version. I would have hoped that the audience, like myself, were humbled to be watching it. It is reprehensible to think that someone thought it was ok to behave otherwise. I put "Einstein" on a pedestal before actually watching it - a friend texted me BEFORE I walked into the house saying 'you may actually come out there a changed human being' (it was banter, but ironically so). Instead of that I only got as far as sitting in a room, with a stage and a camera. It ruined the experience and it wasnt worth £125.

@MarkShenton Here Here!

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It must also be remembered that having no side or centre aisles, the Barbican Theatre is particularly difficult to police in terms of preventing photography etc. without disturbing other audience members during a performance. Having said that the FOH arrangements at the Barbican Theatre have diminished greatly since the departure of the RSC. During their time the FOH staff from at all levels appeared genuinely motivated and keen to ensure that the audience experience was a positive one. On the subject of Pam Ann at the Bloomsbury, she could have helped her cause enormously if she had added an interval. The audience for such a show is there to have a good time and the associated consumption of alcohol can have a debilitating effect on bladder control.

Some commenters clearly seem to think photography in the theatre is okay if the flash is switched off; no it isn't. Taking pictures of a show is a violation of copyright (nobody's mentioned that) as well as being acutely annoying for spectators in neighbouring seats.
The same is true of mobile phones; switching them to silent and then reading your emails and sending texts is completely unacceptable.
What happens in jukebox shows like Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages? Do they allow a free-for-all or not? If they do, then it undermines the position of theatres who are trying to enforce reasonable behaviour.

Mark has now published a follow-up column. In order to best keep comments on topic and up-to-date, I'm closing comments on this thread and suggesting that those wishing to comment further do so underneath the new blog post. Thank you.

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