Recently, a real clamour has developed among ardent theatre-goers to ban the presence of loud snacks- namely products which involve obnoxiously loud crunching, chewing or swallowing during dramatic or operatic performances. Most notably, Harry Potter and Vera Drake, not to mention Oscar-nominated and Bafta-winning actress Imelda Staunton has called for an end to snacking during performances.
Staunton said of the issue: ‘I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing’, before adding, ‘I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day.’ She is the latest in a long line of actors, directors and producers to criticise theatre patrons who eat and drink during performances. Most notably, producer Richard Jordan said his trip to the show Doctor Faustus, involved ‘possibly the worst West End audience I have ever encountered’, and included such horrors as patrons ‘talking, eating and taking pictures throughout’ the performances, as well as audience members scoffing assorted sugary snacks, takeaway chicken nuggets, and fish-and-chip suppers.
On this issue, I am torn. On one hand, I like food, and there is a real tradition of having snacks at theatre performances. At both The Globe and Rose sites in London, numerous fossilised remains have been excavated showing foodstuffs such as pies, pasties, roasted meat, nuts, oranges and flagons of mead or ale being consumed during performances. It appears to have been intrinsically essential to the experience.
On the other hand, there must be line drawn. Certain snacks can only be described as obnoxious or unnecessary. No one attends a show purely to listen to the person in front chomping and scoffing whatever they have brought in. Foods like popcorn, and nachos, although delicious (and staples on cinema menus) should not have a place at the theatre. They are loud and disruptive, especially when you also factor in the unmistakable rustling of paper or plastic as someone fumbles around in the bag. And, although people may try and justify it, individually wrapped bonbons or ‘sucking sweets’ like Werthers Originals are even worse, needing one to tiptoe through the minefield of unwrapping plastic every single time you want one. Although you may use less overall, they are still equally abhorrent for other patrons.
Some theatres, to their credit have tried to combat this. Instead of letting you rustle around constantly in a bag for Skittles, or M&Ms etc., now most theatres will request you empty them all out into a plastic cup beforehand. Although this does minimise some of the noise, you still have to cope with the rattling of the individual confectionery as they wash over each other. Some actors also think too much is being made of the issue. Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame, who was performing in Doctor Faustus responded to Jordan’s criticism, suggesting caution should be exercised. He warned that, ‘stereotyping and prejudice aimed towards a new and younger generation of theatregoers’ would kill off theatre, and on this issue I agree with him.
However, eating and drinking at the theatre isn’t a young stereotype: young and old, men and women, group and single all are guilty of the malpractice. I will admit I am sometimes as bad as anyone else for having a bottle of drink and bag of sweets during a show. But, with the price of the theatre already being significant for tickets alone, it seems unfair and quite frankly rude that anyone might think they can put personal enjoyment or nourishment ahead of allowing others to also enjoy the performances. There is definitely ethics involved. Don’t slurp your drinks. If you really have to eat, do it quietly, and during the interval. You don’t need to be constantly eating to enjoy the performance. Imelda Staunton, or Kit Harington, or whomever is on stage will not suddenly appear better just because you have eaten a snack, or gulped down a bottle of cola.
Just be sensible. To be frank, if you are close to the front, and feel the need to have a fish-and-chip supper during the show, take a good long hard look at yourself. It’s not fair on the actors, or on the fellow audience members. They came to watch a show, not to smell greasy food and watch you engorge.