Theatre Etiquette – What You Should & Shouldn’t Do

A few weeks ago I went to the matinée performance of Guys and Dolls at the Phoenix Theatre in London.  The behaviour by some of the audience was appalling. So much so that it was difficult to concentrate on the show due to the continuous distractions.   The matinée started at 2.30 p.m so there was plenty of time beforehand to have lunch, socialise and visit the toilet. There was more entertainment (of the wrong kind) going on around me than on the stage.   I have never experienced so many disturbances in one show.

I want to tell you about the behaviour of fellow theatregoers at Guys and Dolls.  We occupied seats 5 rows from the front of the upper circle and had the two seats next to the centre aisle.  I could hear and see all of what I am about to tell you. After each sentence about the wrong sort of Theatre etiquette I have added what I believe is acceptable.


Theatregoers turned up late – by late I mean ten to fifteen minutes into the performance. In the middle of a Saturday afternoon, is there any excuse?

Arrive in plenty of time – most of the time you have booked your seat in advance and know you are going, don’t try to fit in 101 things before turning up.  You probably don’t go to the theatre everyday so make it a memorable occasion and enjoy it!


A couple of people in my row arrived a couple of minutes before the show, left their bags, coat etc at their seat and then went to the toilet.  Furthermore they did not come back to their seat until after the show has started.  If they had gone to the toilet before finding their seat they would have only had to disturb others on one occasion. More importantly they would have made it in time for the start of the show.

Buy your programme, visit the toilet etc. before finding your seat – it is most annoying to have to keep getting up and down just because you want to see where you seat is before you disappear to get a programme or go to the toilet.

Unless you are sat in the centre of a row, you will have to get up and down to let people by.  Try not to give a  disapproving look when you are asked to stand up so people can get by.


Someone a few seats along had a rucksack and handbag.  Other theatregoers had shopping bags.  Passing people in the seats is an art at the best of times, let alone when you have oversized bags to deal with.

Limit what you take into the theatre with you.  There is not much room for your legs let alone half a dozen shopping bags.  There is usually a cloakroom where you can leave bags and coats.


The person next to me ate 4 bananas and 3 satsumas throughout the whole performance.  Not only is it  distracting sitting next to someone peeling fruit, there was a pungent smell coming from the bag where they had put the fruit peelings.

Please be mindful of what you take into the theatre.  You cannot unwrap sweet wrappers quietly, surely you can go an hour without eating.  Also ice rattling around in the bottom of drinks obtained in the interval is just as annoying.


There were several people texting throughout the performance.  One person was even taking photos before being reprimanded by theatre staff.

Turn off your phone – No don’t put it to silent, your phone will still light up when you get a message or tweet.  Even in your handbag this will be visible.  You will not be able to text and take photos if your phone is switched off.


A few rows in front several theatregoers started an argument.  From what I saw one person was leaning forward which meant the person behind could not see.  They asked them (not very politely) to sit back and an argument started which did not stop until fellow theatregoers told them to be quiet.

It is likely that at some point during the performance you will not be able to see all what it going on.   However, you should still be able to see most of what is happening.  If this is not the case you could try speaking to the person in front of you at a convenience moment (e.g. when the audience are applauding or at the interval).


Three young children further along in my row were not interested in the show.  They became bored very quickly fidgeting and talking.  During the interval they had been given a bag of crisps which they continued to eat (and rustle the packets) during the second half of the show.

Take children to shows which are appropriate to their age.  Only take children to shows you know they are going to sit and watch.  I first took my daughter to the theatre at the age of six to see the Lion King.  That was because she was (and still is) a Disney fan.  She knew the story and having sat and watched films in the cinema I was confident she would sit quietly in the theatre


If you are going to the theatre in the future may I ask that you show some consideration for others.  They have paid good money for a few hours entertainment and want to come away having had a pleasurable experience.

It is the actors and staff that I feel sorry for.  They work tirelessly behind the scenes to produce these wonderful shows.  The very least we can do is give them the respect they deserve.   By this I mean stay until the end.  I think it is so rude when you have sat and watched the show and then get up and go as soon as it has finished without applauding the actors and musicians.  None of us want to be at the back of the queue but if you are sat in the middle of a row there is not a lot you can do.

If Theatre Etiquette was acknowledged by everyone we could all enjoy theatre the way it was meant to be.



1 Comment

  • EXPERIENCES OF A THEATRE LOVER - MidLifeMyWay July 31, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    […] If you enjoy a traditional musical then this is for you.  Set in New York City the show moves at quite a fast pace. So much so that due to constant interruptions around me, it was difficult to keep up with the story.  That said from what I saw and heard was very good with some entertaining song and dance routines.  On this occasion I sat in the Upper Circle and to be honest the seats were not that comfortable.  However, I think I was fidgety due to the goings on around me.  I was so annoyed and upset that my afternoon’s entertainment had been spoilt.  So much  that I was spurred on to write a post about it.  You can read my post about Theatre Etiquette here […]


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