Friday, 11 September 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 11 September

Should you chastise those annoying audience members who chat throughout the performance? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
My wife and I, regular theatre and concert-goers, have recently observed the following: at Bristol Hippodrome a party of ladies of a certain age chatted freely during the performance. At Aida in Verona, the middle-aged couple behind me regularly exchanged views in an annoying ‘stage whisper’. In Cardiff, a couple was late for the start of a play. The woman then left her seat, returned, and the pair were late for the second half.

Worst of all, during a sublime performance by Ms Benedetti of Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni, a well-dressed middle-aged ‘gentleman’ chose the Adagio molto in Part 3 to walk noisily along the aisle to resume his seat.

I raised these annoyances in correspondence with the venue managers but received no reply. One hesitates to act oneself, but in extremis is a ‘Sssh’ acceptable?
Ian Williams, Usk

Dear Ian,
How nice to hear from you again! You must be one of my most frequent correspondents. Your catalogue of distress in various auditoria paints a powerful picture of declining standards. As you know, I am always reluctant to generalise about trends in society but perhaps we should make an exception here.

Curiously, audiences only became silent relatively recently. In the 19th century, at the opera in particular, the house lights were not dimmed and as is apparent from the horseshoe design of opera houses of the period, the main purpose was for top-drawer audience members to make a display of their jewellery and frocks from one box to another. It wasn’t a priority to have a view of the stage, let alone to pay attention.

Late in the 19th century all this changed, mainly with the advent of Wagner and the Bayreuth Festival. Theatre-going became akin to a sacred rite, solemn and uninterruptible. Now, in the age of TV, we’re swinging round again. Audiences behave as if on the sofa at home watching TV, talking, texting, coming and going. There’s a shift, for sure. But it should be resisted. Theatre is not TV. Its magic and intensity depend upon the attentive silence of the audience. Benedict Cumberbatch, in Hamlet, asked fans not to film him on their phones but instead to absorb themselves in what is happening on the stage.

Managers of performance venues should be responsible for conduct, particularly the admittance of latecomers. Reluctance to intervene might be due to declining attendance.

You can glare at persistent talkers, but ‘Ssshing’ them makes more noise and creates an unpleasant atmosphere.

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


With numerous restaurant chains plunged into controversy over their tipping policies and the Government set to investigate, isn’t it about time we put an end to tipping? The restaurant chain Côte, for example, apparently does not pass on any tips to employees but pays them better instead, although this is denied by the chain.

Another outfit called Las Iguanas has the bizarre practice of charging its servers a percentage of their table sales to be paid out of their tips. There is an obvious answer to all this muddle and confusion: get rid of the whole outmoded feudal tipping system. Make tipping illegal. Pay restaurant staff properly instead.

It’s absurd that in this day and age waiters are hanging on the whims of customers who might condescend to confer largesse on somebody they’ve taken a fancy to – or not. Or withhold tips because the service is slow, which usually isn’t the waiter’s fault. Then there’s the agony about how much to leave. And if it’s a service charge added automatically to the bill, very few dispute it. So all in all, what is the point? Abolish tipping asap.

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