I like theatre.
Honestly, I really enjoy theatre. In fact, I love it. To be dramatic about it, I have a love for it that is so strong it may never die. Puns. Or is that dramatic irony, eh? But, seriously, for the last decade myself and my close friends have been involved in every aspect of it, from writing to producing, directing to acting, learning to teaching, at nearly every level possible.
So whether I pay eight quid for an amateur or student performance or €25 for a professional production, I’m going in fully dedicated to enjoying the piece for what it’s worth, what it is capable of. I am not an expert, but I am appreciative of the numerous ins and outs of the process of putting something together. It’s live-action, it’s exciting, to borrow a phrase it’s all out like a torn bag there in front of you, no safety nets, there are necks on the line to give a show. That’s what makes it brilliant.
And audiences can ruin the God damn thing so God damn easily.
The adage that it’s not theatre until there’s somebody watching is all well and good but in my last few visits to theatres I’ve had a fear I was on a hidden camera show, people there testing the limits of social discourse to get a reaction and then go OH WE’RE ONLY MESSIN’ WIT YA! but no, Mike Murphy or PJ Gallagher are nowhere to be seen. This is real life. This is reality.
For instance, recently, I went to see the Irish premiere of Michael McDonagh’s The Pillowman by Decadent Theatre Company in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. I was excited for many reasons; I had seen Decadent’s production of A Skull in Connemara the previous year and was excited to see what they would do with what is arguably McDonagh’s best work. I was friends with some of the cast members and was excited about their involvement. And I was going to a show, that’s fucking cool, y’know?
I sat three rows from the back, the box office man said I would have ample leg room. He was right. I could’ve had a picnic for three I had so much space in front of me. I also had a perfect view of the stage with what was an intriguing and beautiful set of a totalitarian prison cell so, naturally, extreme happiness was my main feeling. Lights went down. We had an announcement to turn off all electronic devices. Check. Battery of phone was in another pocket completely. Lights came up. Anticipation was building. The cell door opened. In came Aeriel, Tupolski. He was readying himself for his opening line, he found his beat in his head, you could see it, there he was, opening his mouth, breathing in, the opening line of the play, his line, he starts everything, he’s going for the first word and HARMONICA BREAK
From somewhere I could not discern at the time because of its sheer volume and the shock of it happening, Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ blared out utterly unabashed from a phone. Tupolski looked out, clearly startled. With McSavage’s comedy background, there might have been an instance to attack, instinct and all for a comedian to kill the disturbance, but he continued on and delivered his line and got the show on the road. And still the music played. And they continued. And still the music played. And they continued on. And then, approximately around the pre-chorus, the person managed to shut Bob up and we got on with the show.
But this was not to be the only issue on the night.
I was seated beside a woman in her late fifties/early sixties. A friendly looking face on her, she probably won’t vote yes in the upcoming referendum because Catholic Catholic Catholic but in essence she thinks “gays are alright shr.” She was very interested in talking to her friend beside her. That is talking through the play. While the actors were performing. Initially it was funny, the odd “JESUS” here, the giggles of “Oh God!” there, all at the darkly comic material that is The Pillowman’s script, but worryingly it all became more and more regular. And even more worryingly, it all started to be aimed more and more towards me. She began leaning her head into my peripheral vision after a character would say ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ with a wanton bark of laughter. Other times she would just stare at the side of my face for a few seconds and back again to the stage. It reached a point that I finally had to acknowledge her, out of nothing but social awkwardness on my part but with some slight hope she would stop once I pretended to agree with her that “Oh God, isn’t this shocking language altogether? What will we do at all at all at all? B’Jaysus.”
The interval came. She turned and said it was a “change alright.” and I asked had she seen any McDonagh plays before. She had, but thought this to be darker than the rest, and I agreed. I said it was a good play all the same and, rather needlessly, said one of the cast was my best friend ever. We parted ways. Time passed. I came back to my seat. But I soon realised that I had made a huge mistake. I had interacted with her. I had made a friend.
For the whole second act I, singularly, especially, possibly even thoughtfully on her part, was bombarded with “Ugh!”, “JAYSUS!”, “ho-ho-HO!” and every other noise of disapproval possible. My personal favourite was however when there was a repetition of the word “alright” for dramatic effect and in the middle of the pregnant pause after the final “alright” she turns and says “It’ll be alright on the night.” for no fucking reason whatsofuckingever. The show ends, and yes it was a great show, but the audience can really mess it up not only for the performance and performers, but for themselves.
And I hear tell of these stories from others, from friends, of phones and whispers and general rudeness and it seems as if it’s half-accepted when you go to theatre these days. And I thought back and yes, seemingly something’s always happened when I have been to a show. No one wants people shifting the face off each other beside you when you have the representation of three generations of Irish women onstage bleeding their souls dry, you do not need to hear the click of a camera lens capturing a striking set as a person’s being is questioned and the last thing anyone needs is a chair vibrating behind them during Krapp’s Last Tape.
And no, I could not ask her to stop. Not that woman. Because if I began that formality of asking her to stop doing what she was doing, I would probably end up shouting at her and threatening physical violence with lasting effects because there are just some things you do not do in the theatre as part of the audience and playing Nervous Neighbour or Annoying Annie is not forgivable. Not even at pantomimes. ESPECIALLY AT PANTOMIMES.
There was another time, another great play, another shower of eejits.
Mikel Murfi’s one man show, The Man in Woman’s Shoes, was incredible. Murfi was a complete powerhouse of a performer. The script focuses on a mute member of a rural community and to see it performed so eloquently by Murfi, particularly with his precise physicality that just makes you stop in awe and realise you’re witnessing someone who cares deeply about performance and storytelling, was a treat and a pleasure to say the least.
But sure enough, some people…
Two nuns of considerable years were to my left, one seat separated us. I smiled and nodded, they did the same and during the first five minutes the nun farthest from me took out a smart phone to check up on facebook. The screen glared clearly into my peripheral vision. I looked over. Her head did not rise. I returned to Murfi, but that blue/white light continued. I looked again, she was still head down into it. The missions must’ve been at some serious craic altogether. I don’t know, I didn’t ask, but also, and more to the point, I did not ask her to put the phone away or turn it off because a) I thought she wouldn’t be able to hear my polite but insistent whispers as she was quite old and relatively far away and b) I was not giving out to a nun about her iPhone. No.
After five to ten minutes, the phone’s glare disappeared and I was calmer. But then the audience began to resemble the chaotic final scene Murfi describes. And this wasn’t some beautiful meta moment of let’s all be the drama TOGETHER YEAH. This was just pure ignorance.
Four rows ahead of me, sweets were being continually unwrapped by a group of five adults. Chocolates. I know they were chocolates because the leader very audibly asked that row, “Does anyone want a chocolate?” before she opened a plastic bag to get the bag of chocolates to open to offer to the row.
Two women to my right began to eat honey lozenges for sore throats because I and I would wager everyone else in the auditorium could hear them talk about how they liked raspberry ones and blackberry ones but that honey is nice too. A person behind me asked their partner “And he’s acting as different people, he is?”
At this point, I just wanted to get home to send the nun a friend request and ask forgiveness for giving out to them in my head.
Through the final scenes, factions of the audience were, dare I say, loud in their discussion in THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE GOD CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENING FOR REAL THAT WOULD BE MAD ALTOGETHER and then, suddenly, it ended. There was applause. I left.
Now, you can probably tell, I was annoyed in both scenarios, but I also loved each play. I outlasted the unmannerly manners of the others around me, as I am sure other audience members experienced and persevered, I saw the plays. But there’s no way in hiding there are not problems. If I went to a gig, a soiree of music per say, I sure as fuck would be annoyed if someone beside me kept whispering different songs in my ear. If I go to the cinema, I don’t need nobody coming all up in my ear to tell me about Coronation Street. And if I go to the theatre, the least people can do is watch The Rock – the wrestler, not the movie with Sean Connery – and know their damn role and shut their damn mouth. Or just not go to the theatre at all. And that’ll solve the problem then, won’t it?