Friday, 23 December 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 23 December

Munching noisily in a theatre is an outrage, says Thomas Blaikie. Just stop it, now

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas
As many of us will be hoping to enjoy an outing to the theatre over the festive season, I wonder what can be done about the rising tide of munchers and chompers who disrupt performances these days.
Michael Cummings , Sandwich

Dear Michael
The practice of snacking during the show is becoming quite a thing, frequently accompanied by talking, phone fiddling and taking photographs. And it’s escalating: entire meals are now being consumed in the stalls. On BBC Breakfast in November, an actor explained the difficulty of trying to act as the aroma of fish and chips wafts on to the stage. The producer Richard Jordan spotted a jolly party tucking into McDonald’s during a performance of Dr Faustus in London’s West End recently. ‘Why can’t people engage in just one thing?’ (ie the performance), the actress Imelda Staunton asks. She’s calling for eating to be banned altogether from the auditorium.

In the 18th century, theatre- goers came and went as they pleased while the play was being given. The idea of the audience sitting in silence and in darkness only arrived in the 19th century. Before that it wasn’t technically possible to dim the lights. So what is happening now? Are we witnessing a culture shift it would be fruitless to resist?

I suspect that more and more people go to live theatre in the spirit of telly-watchers, and this seems to mean not just chatting, but snacking too. Regular meals and what you might call proper eating habits appear to have flown out of the window, despite all this fuss about health and diets tugging in the other direction.

Half the population lives off pizza, cupcakes and croissants. All the useful shops have been turned into cafés where eager humans wolf down millionaire shortbread and the like. So it’s hardly surprising the dress circle has become a parallel grazing ground.

Furthermore, theatres admit they make money from selling the popcorn and sweeties. Finally, evening theatre performances take place at dinnertime – for those to whom that means anything!

So it is probably unrealistic to put a stop to munching in the auditorium altogether, especially where attendance is fragile and ‘rules’ might be resented. But surely major eating can be severely discouraged – by the theatre management. Fish and chips and McDonald’s just aren’t a suitable choice for consumption on the hoof anywhere, not just in the theatre. ‘Meals’ must be eaten at a table with a knife and fork. Near other people there must be no smelly food either. That just leaves the problem of rustling sweet papers and the din of sandwiches being unwrapped. One theatre has come up with the ingenious solution of selling consumable treats in little pots – so no racket as they are eaten.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...New Year's resolutions

I may have mentioned before that my New Year’s resolution one year was never again to eat an iceberg lettuce. This I have managed to keep but some- one once explained to me that I hadn’t quite got the point. Even so, New Year’s resolutions often are somewhat self- involved: acquire a more beautiful body, tidy one’s glove drawer, re- arrange the larder, don’t let one’s ten- ants take one for a ride … this year, perhaps, it is easier to broaden the out- look: 2016 has not been, for many, a happy year. The world, whatever perspective you view it from, seems sudDenly to have become a more divided, more frightening place, riven with anger and intolerance. So why not resolve in 2017, as we all attempt to make our own small contribution, to be more willing to listen to the opposing point of view, less judgmental, more willing to seek compromise and an outcome that satisfies everybody? In other words the essence of courtesy and good manners – not a goal we can hope always to achieve, but one well-worth striving for even if you only get some of the way.

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