Helen Smith will be appearing on panels at Malice Domestic (3 May, USA) and CrimeFest (16 May,UK)

Friday, 16 November 2007

Why I Hate the Theatre

I went to see The Brothers Size at the Young Vic this evening, following a recommendation from Natasha Tripney. Lyn Gardner also tipped it without even having seen it yet.

Three young actors use a mixture of text, song and physical theatre to tell the story of two brothers. It's 90 minutes long in an intimate theatre setting on raked seating which gives you a good view of the actors.

Was it really as good as Natasha said it would be? How the hell would I know? I had the misfortune to be sitting next to a selfish old cunt who loudly cleared his throat throughout the performance. I don't mean he cleared his throat a lot. I mean he did it every 7 to 20 seconds for 90 minutes. He was quiet as a mouse while we waited for the show to start but as soon as it did and we were trapped in our seats, off he went.

He favoured a four beat hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm pattern but varied it so that you couldn't rely on it or block it out or get used to it. A one point he went for a 5 4 3 2 combo before settling on a series of two beat hemmm hemmms before finally returning to his old favourite, the four beats.

There was no interval and no handy intermission or breaks between scenes in which to remonstrate with him. No amount of staring (from me or anyone else - and plenty of us tried it) seemed to put him off. It's a small theatre and we were sitting practically on top of the actors, so I didn't want to get into a whispered argument with him for fear of disrupting the performance.
I don't know how the actors managed to keep going; the throat clearing was clearly audible to them during some of the quieter scenes. Do they do a special class at drama school on how to keep going in the face of persistent interference from the audience? They'd have needed all their training to get by tonight, god bless them.

It was impossible to follow the story. This is what I heard:
Hemmm hemmm hemmm. Brother.
Hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm. Nigger.
Hemm Hemm.
Hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm. Pussy.
Hemmm hemmm.

His wife was sitting between us. She was unperturbed by either his throat-clearing or my glaring and eventually she fell asleep and snored gently like an old dog: prrrrrrrr.

So then this is what I heard:
Hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm Madagascar. Prrrrrrrr.
Hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm. Nigger. Prrrrrrr.
Hemm hemm.

The wife woke up briefly and he even stopped clearing his throat when one of the brothers said to the other one: Say I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked up. (About nine times, I think - very effective).

But then it was back to hemmm hemmm hemmm hemmm; like the coughing episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire but without the prize.

The bit where they (the actors) sang along to Otis Redding was lovely. The dream sequences looked interesting. I wish I could have enjoyed the rest of it.

Afterwards, I thought I should say something to the old man - tell him not to go to the theatre in future because he had spoiled my evening and musn't spoil it for others. Yes, obviously he was ill. But you can stay home and be ill. You don't have to go to the theatre and share it around.

I saw his party waiting for him to come out of the toilet after the show and I waited nearby to catch him and say something before he reached them. But he outsmarted me and went the other way and I missed him. Then I saw them all going out of the door and I followed them for a little way down the street. But... what would be the point? He couldn't NOT KNOW he was doing it. It was a choice he made. What could I possibly say that would make him make a different choice next time? Anyway arguing in the street is common.

I wasn't the only one who left the theatre in a fury, having missed most of the performance because of that old cunt. The man next to me said he also felt like he had wasted his evening. I should set up some kind of support group. For those affected by this evening's events, please call 0800 hem hem hem in confidence.

On nights like this (which happen surprisingly often when you go to the theatre), I vow never ever to go and see another play again. I think why can't they invent something that is like the theatre but you can watch it at home by yourself... and then remember that's what television is. That's what DVDs are for. TV is fucking wonderful and it's free. I'm watching The Wire on DVD at the moment and it's one of the best things ever. Hour after hour after hour after hour of brilliant acting and storytelling in your own living room and it costs a few pounds to rent from Amazon.

But then I have seen some wonderful, magical stuff at the theatre this year - An Oak Tree, My Arm, Subway, War Horse, All About My Mother, Venus as a Boy, Hairspray, Story of a Rabbit and so on. If I gave up going to the theatre, I'd risk missing out on something as good as any one of those next time.

One solution would be if you were allowed to take mace into the theatre so that if anyone nearby started to cough, you could spray them with it in a 'so you're in the mood for coughing, are you?' kind of a way. Cunts.

10 comments:

Far away said...

ha!
this is a play in itself

Jason Arnopp said...

Marvellous post, madam. Well, obviously not marvellous for you at the time, but entertainingly written.

I had a similar experience in San Sebastian, at the film festival, but with the guy directly to the right HUMMING throughout the film. Actually, it wasn't so much of a hum, as a kind of phlegmy intonation. In batches of four, much like your Theatre Cunt.

Every now and again, I would glance around at him in a 'What the fuck are you doing?' kinda way, and he'd stop. But then continue, like he simply couldn't help it. The volume went down, then slooowly crept up again. Which is probably why I can't remember which film I was watching at the time - I was more hooked on the cycle of torment which was going on.

I would've beaten the man senseless, but it would have looked bad. And perhaps the humming was a Basque Country tradition.

Interval Drinks said...

Gosh, sorry you had such a crappy time. This beats my giggling girls at the Greenwich Playhouse (where I too composed a number of choice things to say to them, but of course never actually said any of them). They at least had the excuse of youth.

It's especially rough at a play like this, where so much is rhythms and music and myth, where a degree of concentration is required. Grr. I fume on your behalf.

Helen Smith said...

Yes, I kept meaning to reply to your post on your blog about the giggling girls, Natasha. I would have suggested finding out which school they went to and writing to the Head Teacher, even though of course I would never have got round to doing any such thing myself.

As the minutes ticked by last night, I kept imagining a scenario whereby, after the actors & the musician had taken their bow and were leaving the stage, I would have stood up in my seat and called for a round of applause for the old man, who had kept us all so entertained throughout the evening. But of course, I didn't do it.

The play did look as if it would have been fantastic, though!

Jon Peacey said...

You've just pretty much summed up why I don't go to cinemas very often. Human people!

I did once go to a screening of The Exorcist where a persistent talker got thumped in the back of the head by the guy two rows behind him (not me- honest!). He'd already been given fair notice by the thumper. The audience applauded.

At a screening of a film in a big multiplex up near Leeds there was a group of pain-in-the-ass noisy children (technically 18, maybe 19 year olds- but that's kids these days, isn't it?). Someone dragged an usher in. He checked, went 'meh' and left. At the end of the film I got really rather cross at the management types and got a bunch of free tickets!

...and it's not mace you need, it's chloroform... or curare...

...I went to the theatre. Once. There was a play on.

Andrew Orange said...

But the things is Helen, look at the material you came away with. This is the trick to enjoyable theatre-going you see. The play is NOT the thing. It's the whole experience. This is where the mainstream critics go wrong IMHO. You might see how writing about crap things can become an obsession...

Annie Rhiannon said...

Oh god, the theatre. I so much prefer the cinema – at least it's nearly always empty.

twirly said...

I'm an actor, and I think this is why we fear shows without intervals - no chance of getting rid of the bastards. I did a show in the round up north once, and it was all in the name of getting the people who normally don't go to the theatre, into the theatre. Why bother? Half way through the most intimate, touching of scenes, some arse in the audience would stand up and shout " Same again for you Barbara, or are you moving on to wine?", complete with obligatory mime sequence, then upset the entire row as he pushed out to the bar. Those on stage were mortified, deflated and demoralised, knowing that the return of the hunter with his liquid booty was only a matter of time...

Helen Smith said...

Twirly that's very funny. It's a wonder there aren't more assaults on audience members by the performers, although (much as it might enliven the memoirs) I don't suppose it would look good on the CV.

Jon Peacey said...

Since the mood and atmosphere is already broken, I wonder why the actors don't just stop the play and point at the miscreant and issue a high pitch scream a la Body Snatchers... Scream and shame!