There is a proper time and place for food and it isn’t in the theatre seat, according to Oscar-nominated and Bafta-winning actress Imelda Staunton. But is she right?
The Vera Drake and Harry Potter star, who was recently up on the London stage for a production of Gypsy, said in a Radio Times interview that she would welcome a ban on eating and drinking in theatres.
“I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing,” she said. “I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day.”
She is the latest in a line of actors, directors, and even audience members to complain about an increasing smorgasbord of hearty eating habits amongst theatregoers.
In the summer, producer Richard Jordan claimed his trip to see Doctor Faustus was marred by “possibly the worst West End audience I have ever encountered”.
He detailed seeing takeaway chicken nuggets in the first half and “talking, eating and taking pictures throughout”.
‘Rustle, rustle, rustle’
Actors have described seeing fish and chip suppers eaten in the stalls – “smelt absolutely delicious but were quite disturbing” – and being put off by the everlasting share-bags of popcorn and crisps. One director lambasted a front-rower for chewing through a “never-ending bags of sweets”.
Actor John Partridge, currently starring in Chicago, told the BBC his most off-putting foodie moment came when he was playing Zach in a production of A Chorus Line, a role which involves sitting with the audience.
“One show, I’m in the middle, delivering my lines and a guy two seats from me, goes into his bag, rustle, rustle, rustle, pulls out this kind of bucket of Chinese-style chicken wings.
“It’s not only the noise, they stink.
“He’s like, ‘Do you want one?’ I think: ‘I am immersed in my character right now. You’ve paid 80 to come and see this. Why would you want to come and eat?’
“People actually bring lunch, pre-packed in a Tupperware box. What is that? I am with Imelda. No eating in the theatre.”
“Boiled sweets – the worst,” he says, tweaking a wrapper. “This rustling every time. Listen to that!”
The full-on takeaways and picnic fare may have been inspired by that other foyer, the cinema – home to trays of tortillas, dripping in cheese and forearm-deep vats of popcorn.
The call for a ban from Staunton, and a “model of conduct” for audiences from Jordan echo the Wittertainment code of conduct for cinemas – a checklist for ideal cinema behaviour set out by film reviewer Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo in their radio show.
Munchers’ habits do have a history with eating at the theatre going back at least to Shakespearian times.
Excavations at both the Globe and the Rose theatre sites in London show that people were eating fruit and nuts, shellfish, crabs, oysters and mussels as well as pies, pasties and roasted meats all washed down with drinks of ale, mead and wine.
So what do modern thespians make of that?
“They had no plastic packaging then, and they probably had no teeth,” says Partridge. “You probably couldn’t hear anyone chomping away.
“I’m sure it was a much more pleasurable experience. Going into their hessian bag didn’t make anywhere near as much noise,” he says.
Emergency pork pie
Perhaps eating at the theatre is a trend of modern life. Theatre-goers waiting for a performance of When we are Married at Liverpool’s Playhouse this week said they hadn’t had time for both dinner and a show.
One came prepared with a pork pie in her bag, but only for the interval. “One can’t eat in the theatre,” she says. Another defends a hidden mountain-shaped chocolate bar as “a Christmas present”.
The theatre itself has sweets and snacks on sale, but offer plastic cups to eat them from, to cut down on wrapper-rustle.
And not all actors are arms aloft.
When Richard Jordan wrote his piece, Faustus actor Kit Harington responded, saying “stereotyping and prejudice aimed towards a new and younger generation of theatregoers” would only help to kill theatre.
Why sit in hunger when you could lounge at home with a box set watching his former role in Game of Thrones?
Eating while watching is just one trait by groundlings to prompt a luvvie lament.
As people worked through phone etiquette in the 2000s, Kevin Spacey ticked off the Old Vic audience.
When mobiles became cameras, Benedict Cumberbatch pleaded outside the Barbican for people not to film his Hamlet.
So perhaps, in an age not for experts, some common sense etiquette advice is needed.
Debrett’s managing editor Lucy Hume says: “A trip to the theatre should be fun and inclusive, but it’s important to show consideration for the performers and for other spectators.
“A discreet drink or snack is fine, but eating noisy or smelly food is inconsiderate and may affect other audience members’ enjoyment of the show – so eat beforehand or wait until the interval.”
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38075544