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Theatre etiquetteQuestion:

Dear Uncle Henry,

Last week my husband and I went to see a play and stand-up comedy gig. At both events we were subjected to some really inconsiderate behaviour.

At the theatre, we were sitting next to a young couple and during most of the performance the glow of the man’s mobile phone was a constant light source as was his continual tapping away. Luckily for the performers he was far enough back not to be noticed but it distracted myself and at least half a dozen other people.

At the Stand-up gig, the comedian got so fed up and upset by the constant chattering of a trio in the front row he had them removed from the show, much to the joy of the rest of the audience. This is the first time I have ever seen that happen.

So my question, is there a set of rules/etiquette for going to theatre or live performances.

Yours Theatrically,


London, England



Dear Tammy,

Thank you for the question. I have to say this is one of my favourite questions as it is one of my personal bugbears of modern society, especially with the dreaded mobile phone.

I am of an age when the Theatre or any live event was an experience, an event, something you dressed for. Sadly, with the ever increasing creep of casualness in our society, this has faded.

My mother used to say that any public event that occurred in a darkened room had to have rules and the first one was to dress up. I think she would be turning in her glitter encrusted coffin if she saw some of the sartorial horrors that I have witnessed in the theatre.

So Tammy, yes there are some rules that apply to going to a live performance, Here is my guide to Theatre Etiquette: –

Dress Correctly – Nowadays, the formal dinner suits and gowns of yesteryear are reserved for galas, opening nights and other special occasions. But that does not mean that you should not respect the performance, the performers and the venue. Dress appropriately – it is never acceptable to wear shorts and flip-flops.

Turn the Mobile Off – All mobile phones should be at the very least placed on “airplane mode”, but preferably turned off. This means that they certainly won’t ring during a show and if they are turned off then they won’t be a distraction to you during the show. If you need to check it for work or something important turn it on during the interval and then switch off again.

Keep Food from the Theatre  – You are not in a restaurant, bar or cafe. Leave the food alone. If you have some snack, when the curtain goes up the bag of toffees goes down and stays down till the end. This is also true of drinking, the exception is some comedy performances occur where beverages can be obtained. Feel free to drink them but don’t disturb the performance or the audience trying to get another round in whilst there is a chap on stage – you will do so at your peril.

Silence is Golden – Please don’t talk during the show. It is exceptionally rude to both your neighbours and the actors and if they are distracted you will not get the best out of them. Tammy, as you found out, it can get you ejected!

If you are unfortunate to suffer a coughing fit, it happens to all of us, place your hand over your mouth and, if you have a handkerchief to hand, use that. If you need a sip of water or a lozenge do it swiftly and quietly.

Finally, this is not the X-Factor, keep your singing and humming voice to yourself, unless asked to join in.

Sit Still – Once you are comfortable as you can be in a theatre seat, try not to move to much, don’t fidget and certainly don’t lean back and rest your feet on the seat in front (I have seen it happen). Also, if you are late or need to excuse yourself, do it as quietly and as politely as possible. In the latter case, you should have used the facilities beforehand.

Be Considerate –  Applaud at appropriate times, in a musical you can applaud after a song or section if it struck a chord. Only do a standing ovation if you really think it was the best thing you have seen.

You are there for a shared experience and it is not your couch at home, therefore think of the others around you and think of their enjoyment as your own.

What I have outlined here applies to any event that is held in an auditorium no matter what the size form a ballet to a comedy performance, from an opera to jazz zoncert. All these fall into this same category.

You have generally paid a great deal of money to see/listen/feel the performance of the people in front of you. Therefore show them respect for their craft and respect for the rest of audience.

To calm my nerves, I am off to watch a black and white movie where they all dressed for the theatre…

Toodle Pip,


Uncle Henry

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