Theatre Audience
Theatre Audience

Embarrassing stories from the Stalls

During a performance of Breakfast at Tiffanys in November last year an audience member vomited over a balcony, showering six people below with sick and nearly distracting Anna Friel from the song that she was singing.

Most people have a story like that; ones which involve inappropriate behaviour and moments of acute embarrassment. In the case of the poor soul who threw up everywhere, perhaps they had suddenly fallen ill, or perhaps as with someone else I know, they had drunk too much; after a performance of Bernard Shaw’s St Joan at the National, she tipsily tripped, lost her footing and  subsequently completed a spectacular descent (incorporating two roly polys and a mildly serious blow to the head), down a stair case.  It’s always at the venues which seem synonymous with behaving in a mature and refined manner (at least that’s how it always seems to me when I go to the theatre)  where  you end up making a complete tit of yourself. Perhaps what signals your entrance into the real adult world (university doesn’t count) is when you can start behaving in a moderately normal manner in places such as the theatre.

Of course it doesn’t matter how old you are once you encounter an area ripe for potential mortification; audience participation. Our first encounter with this dreaded aspect of certain performances usually comes in the form of the pantomimes that most of us will have attended at some point in our childhoods. Inevitably a few children will get picked to go on stage, some enjoying it immensely and others crying or wetting themselves. A fond tale in the Guinness family memory bank is the one of my sister, who at eighteen months, decided during a pantomime to toddle up to the front where she spent a few minutes on stage, looking bewildered and overwhelmed as small children are wont to do in front of large groups of people staring at you,  before obstinately refusing to get back down again.

Generally, however, audience participation is rarely voluntary, and there are only a few individuals with can hop onto the stage and cheerfully banter with the comedian.  Everyone just looks very stiff with a rictus grin plastered on their face.   Personally, I live in dread of being picked upon during a performance; so a fairly recent first time trip to see the Rocky Horror Show saw me at my most vigilant, watchful in case someone should identify me as a first time goer and subsequently haul me onto the stage where I would be slowly spit roasted over  an open fire (or whatever the various websites that I looked at promised would happen to Rocky Horror virgins).

The most common form of audience participation tends to be the ubiquitous comedy show, where the performer as a part of their routine will ask members of the audience questions. This has the potential to be a very tired part of the comedians  oeuvre, and often enough it’s painful to watch, sometimes because the comedian is not very good, or  because their targets are mercilessly picked on – woe betide those who use a comedy show as a venue for a first or second date. Usually, the audience member gets more than they’ve bargained for; as with the case of a friend who had David Hoyle sit on his lap and give him a kiss. Or, your plans for a nice evening out can blow up completely in your face as you endure a pitch of humiliation so acute it hurts, like the (unnamed) acquaintance who spent  the course of one show being heckled by six successive comedians, and somehow ended up singing ‘I am the only gay Eskimo in my tribe’ in front of a thousand strong audience. Good times.

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