Musical theatre audiences should be seen and not heard - Liam Rudden
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It's the bane of every Front of House manager's life and causing a furore in the theatre world, yes, we're talking about the growing trend for audience members to join in as the cast deliver popular numbers.
From Frozen's Let It Go to, ironically, Les Miserable’s Do You Hear The People Sing?, there’s always one person who thinks the show needs the benefit of their creative input.
I blame noughties' talent search shows like I'd Do Anything, Any Dream Will Do and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Oh, and the stage production of Dirty Dancing. All of which changed the nature of musical theatre forever in a successful attempt to attract a much needed new audience.
Suddenly, having invested weeks of their lives casting the star of the show through their votes, audiences developed a sense of ownership and rightly felt part of the whole experience.
Regardless, in my humble opinion it's never acceptable to inflict your tuneless warbling on others with two exceptions, a singalong performance, which gives you permission to do just that while warning those averse to communal singing to stay away, and Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show in which audience participation is practically obligatory. To be honest singing along is the least of your worries.
Even before theatre etiquette began to relax, there was always the odd wannabe who couldn't resist joining in, usually an ardent am-dram performer in my experience, now though the temptation seems to have become almost endemic – not long ago I wrote about a confrontation after one performance of Les Miserable after one audience member had hummed along throughout, 'ruining the experience for those around her'.
The clash grew ugly when the guilty party retorted the complaints had 'spoiled' her evening and, having paid for her ticket, had every right to hum along.
Last week, Bat Out of Hell at the Playhouse cleverly addressed the issue with an announcement before each performance that the cast didn't need the help of any would-be Meat Loaf's in the stalls, Grand Circle or Balcony.
Like Boublil and Schönberg's masterpieces for Les Mis, the songs of Jim Steinman are not easy to master so I can understand the irritation caused by those deluded enough to believe sharing their rendition would go down well.
That said, such behaviour is indicative of the evolving nature of theatre. Things have changed greatly since the pre-mobile days when distractions were limited to the rustle of sweetie wrappers, the obligatory cougher and the occasion shouted ‘whisper’ of "What did he say, Agnes?" just as the stage fell silent.
Today, attitudes and audiences are changing, people think nothing of checking their phone during a performance. I've even seen calls being taken mid-show.
So what do we do? Theatre is for everyone, those who want a participatory experience and those who prefer to passively watch, of course, never the twain shall meet. Some productions recognise that with a singalong encore at the end. Most of the time it works.
But really it's quite simple, if the word ‘singalong’ isn't in the title, hud yer wheesht.