Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Where was I…

… before I got so unsettled and found myself reliving the 1970s, when I was young and beautiful (yeah, right!).

I was in theatre. Nothing much has changed since the 70s in that respect. What has changed, though, is what punters are allowed to do in auditoria these days. Once upon a time all you could do was surreptitiously suck a pastille if you were coughing so much that you were disturbing the actors and the rest of the audience, or, after the interval, carry on enjoying your ice-cream in silence. Now – now! – you’re allowed to drink wine all through the play and asphyxiate the person sitting next to you with the fumes.

Pretentious people who bring in bottles of water and take a sip from time to time are bad enough. Since when – no, really!, since when is it necessary to constantly be drinking? Don’t tell me they’re scared of getting dehydrated in such a short time.

Wine is worse, though. Forget about horrible perfumes (I seem to always get a seat behind someone whose favourite fragrance is some sickly gardenia), the smell of wine is disgusting ‘out of context’. A 20-minute interval is more than long enough to finish up a glass or wine, or two or even three, if you insist on getting sloshed. Of course, the management shouldn’t allow it. When people started taking their drinks into the auditoria, there were accidents so now most theatres supply plastic cups to avoid people getting hurt by broken glass, but they shouldn't encourage this new habit; they should forbid it. Years ago, at the Barbican, I was even stopped from taking my ice-cream into the concert hall. I haven’t been there recently, I bet they allow wine drinking like everywhere else.

I suppose I should have been grateful, that night, that my neighbour wasn’t also munching sweets or peanuts, like the one who recently nearly spoiled a wonderful performance of Antony and Cleopatra for me. In the first half, it was Maltesers rolling around in their box and, in the second, it was the smell of wine. What next? Three-course meals?



  1. There is also the question of the Elbows. People eating and drinking have to raise their arm, and in tight seating arrangements those elbows get in your personal space. Bottles of water, while not smelly, involve more elbow action with all the unscrewing. And the water goes gl-gl-gl when they tip it.

    Happy to join in slapping with you!

  2. A little courtesy and consideration in a confined space is always a bonus.

  3. Years ago, I attended a Diana Krall concert at an elegant little venue. I was self conscious becuase i had attnded on my own. An overblown woman threw herself into the seat next to mine, reeking of Gucci Rush, which contains something which gives me a headache and sick stomach. Then a man sat down in front of me-with pins sticking out of his ears and the base of his neck. Ugh! He must have been having some sort of acupuncture treatment-dozens of horrible sharp needles sticking out of him. The needles would sway slightly, every time he moved his head. The whole thing made me feel totally ill. The concert was great-but I could have lived without the fragrance, and the needles!

    So I will slap those who leave the house with overblown accesories-perfume and needles included.


  4. Dear Bella
    You know there is nothing that can be done about the march of barbarianism, don't you? Not only the eaters and drinkers; I recollect the Vengerov concert that was ruined for me by a foolish young man flipping through his programme inches from my ear at the very quietest most special moments -- when everyone else in the Barbican was holding their breath? And what about the self-indulged-looking father who was texting with a flashing mobile throughout a performance of a Midsummer Night's Dream at Stratford last summer, and, at the same time, had his young daughter lying across him, kicking her bare feet up and down in the spare air of the aisle opposite me -- again, right through the play. Worst of all was that he kept looking around for approval of what he thought was his charming child. Give me a cheese wire.

  5. I clearly remember, on a visit to Britain aged about 12, my Grandmother taking me to a matinee performance of Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit'(I seem to recall Patrick Cargill as the male lead, and Beryl Reid as Madame Arcarti) in a theatre in London's West End. We were in the stalls, and in the interval we were served with a tray of tea and biscuits which she had pre-ordered, as had many other people. Mind you, it was removed before the performance resumed. Very civilised.

  6. I was fortunate enough to see Spamalot in New York the spring it debuted, and had a rollicking good time drinking wine out of a plastic cup. I didn't even know you could DO that these days! But based on your post it seems you can, even if the show isn't a musical comedy. I wonder if they allow it in part because it boosts people's estimates of the value of the show, thereby increasing raves and helping sales. Just a guess.

    I agree that the smell of wine out of context is pretty gross, especially if it spills. And theater manners get worse the more people drink. But, oh, I had so much fun at Spamalot! :-)

  7. Oh, don't mention elbows, L!Flying elbows. Resting elbows. As a small person, easily overlooked and squashed, I insist on taking possession of one armrest - always. As for other people's legs, especially men's ones (men are notoriously unable to sit without 'displaying', even if it's to the back of the seat in front of them), I kick any ankle or shin that comes into my space. You have been warned.

    J, this should be taught at school.

    C, some day, when you forget to sign your comment, I will chuck it in the bin, thinking it is by some anonymous person.

    I can sympathize 100% per cent with what you say. I can't imagine keeping a straight face in front of those needles, though. (Why were you self-conscious because you were on your own, btw?)

    Ugh, S! I would have been livid both times and made it known, I think. There are limits. (You go to the Barbican and Stratford?! Are you me? LOL!)

    H, you can still pre-order drinks and food to have in the interval, but, as you say, in the past you had to finish imbibing and munching before going back in. These days, people drink and eat before, during and after the show.

  8. Oops, WW, you slipped in while I was writing.

    It might just be slightly less annoying if one is watching a very very noisy and riotous play, but only just. If I've paid £30 or more for a performance I don't want it spoiled because other people can't go without something in their mouths for a couple of hours.

    Hang on, do you mean to say that you brought your drink in surreptitiously? That's very bad.

    I saw a very funny documentary about Spamalot (full of clips of it) so I feel as if I've seen it. I wamted to see Tim Curry in it; now I'd like to see Simon Russell Beale, but I refuse to pay West End prices.

  9. I should have made it clear, the tray of tea and biscuits was served to us IN our seats in the theatre; not like today going out to find a glass or two of something lying on a side counter in the bar area with a ticket denoting your name.

  10. No I don't think I AM you, Bela, but I feel such an affinity with your blog. You are just the kind of cultured, evolved, informed, fun girl I like the sound of. Also, I bought some divine Serge Lutens perfume all because of you, and now I already need more of it. But hey, perhaps I'd better not wear it at the theatre.

  11. Food inside during a live performance????? Amazing!!! I haven't seen that yet. Too bad.

  12. H, that's incredible! When did you say that was? I've been going to the theatre in London since 1969 and I've never heard of people getting food served to them on trays in the auditorium. Was your grandmother part of a club or something? It's hilarious, isn't it? Thanks for telling me. :-)

    Oh, I didn't mean you thought you were me, S. I truly wondered whether you might be me - incognito. LOL! Thank you so much for the compliments. I like your blog too.

    Which SL did you buy? I'm curious now. And you must wear it in the theatre (I wear mine): I will never object to smelling a good fragrance wherever I find myself.

    No, no, no, TLP, that is not something we want. Is it? LOL!

  13. I saw Spamalot in NYC last year, and didn't notice anyone eating or drinking, either. I didn't know about this!

  14. I'm very glad to hear it, A. There's too much of this nonsense going on already.

  15. Ugh. I am suddenly EXTREMELY grateful for prohibitions against food or drink in our (shamefully underfunded) opera theatre here in Portland. We may dress haphazardly to attend (men in tuxedos seated next to hippies in sweaters and Birkenstocks) but respect for the performers and fellow audience members is nevertheless followed. Even our "children's theater" performances ban food and drink, and god knows, that must be hard to enforce at times. For a while there were even placards notifying attendees against chewing gum during a performance. Of course, I've no desire whatsoever to pay $10 US for a glass of mediocre champaigne anyhow, so I suppose one could argue this ban has never affected me ;P

    I seriously wonder if this is not some sort of symptom of "movie complex" thinking. Always looking to boost the coffers, they seek the outrageous markup they can charge on food/drink to make even more money, even if it comes at the expense of an enjoyable theatre experience for those who can somehow, crazily enough, manage not to load their gullets for a few hours. And I suspect those who do choose to so indulge feel perfectly comfortable doing so, partly because it's officially sanctioned by virtue of the availability, and partly because it's part of the more common movie going experience nowadays.

    Though, again, I have to admit my own bias: I think I mainly object because the lines for the restroom are already insanely long as it is, and I can't imagine adding eating and drinking during the event to that equation. God! I sometimes barely make it back to my seat in time as it is because the queues can stretch so long! Good grief. Yeah, now that I ponder it, I am pretty sure that would be my main objection.

  16. They allow that in the land of Shakespear??? My, oh my, how things have changed....
    I thought wine drinking is a lovely camaraderie occupation in the interval. But to bring it in the auditoria (how refereshing to see someone using the latin plural!) and drink from a plastic cup...yuck! An insult to the wine, if nothing else!

    Anyway...patience. That too shall pass...(hopefully before *we* pass...)

  17. K, I'm very glad the inhabitants of Portland still behave with respect when out enjoying themselves, and don't spoil it for others.

    You're probably right about the 'movie complex'. Also, speaking of movies, i think audiences are so used to eating and drinking in cinemas that they do it during live performances too.

    Don't mention restrooms (loos, here)! I can't bear to think of the lack of facilities in so many London theatres (especially in the West End).

    H, the land of Shakespeare is going to the dogs. The fabric of society is unravelling rather rapidly at the moment.

    Re. auditoria: I did nine years of Latin (from age ten) so I'm very familiar with Latin plurals. A lot more than Bob Geldof, for instance, who, wanting to show off, said in an interview once (talking about some composer), 'I can't remember how many opi he wrote.' (As you know, the Latin plural of 'opus' is 'opera'. He meant well, LOL!)

    I wish I agreed with you, H: I think things will probably get even worse before they get better (if they ever do).


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