If you have a hunch you’d like to munch, please don’t…

OH, I won’t tarry long with the Budget. Was it good or bad and is Britain fit for life post-Brexit or lumbered with a £60 billion bill for stubbornly casting ourselves adrift from the Continent? Who knows, but a skim of this morning’s headlines offers assessments to suit all tastes and prejudices.

Not for the first time, my favourite summing up comes from the Telegraph cartoonist Matt. A man watching television says to his wife: “I am one of the people who are Just About Managing to stay awake.”

Time now for a weightier matter – the social sinfulness of people who rustle wrappers, chomp on sweets, rip the ring-pulls on cans of fizzy drinks, munch sandwiches and even eat fish and chips or fried chicken while sitting in the theatre.

I’m with Imelda Staunton on this. In the Radio Times, she has a pop at theatregoers who can’t survive for two hours or whatever without eating and drinking.

The Bafta-winning actress tells the Radio Times that there is a proper time and place for food and it isn’t in the theatre seat. The star of Vera Drake and Harry Potter, who recently did a run of Gypsy on the London stage, says she would welcome a ban on eating and drinking in theatres.

“I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing,” she said. “I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day.”

This has long puzzled me. All that constant grazing, chewing and swallowing while watching a play or film just seems unnecessary.

The other day at City Screen, York we watched The Innocents, a wartime drama in which nuns raped in their convent are helped to give birth by a young French woman doctor. A beautiful film but, oh dear, what a glum one. Over to our right a couple survived the ordeal by unwrapping sweets throughout. As these things go, it was a minor infringement, but still irritating. There is no way to quietly unwrap a sweet.

I am not sure when this sort of behaviour began. It seems to be a modern problem for an incontinent age when eating has become the main purpose for our mouths. It seems there are few barriers to eating. Want something in your mouth? Just go ahead and eat, on the street or in the theatre.

Quite when we lost our inhibitions about eating in public is open to debate, and some will point to evidence that audiences at the Globe in Shakespeare’s time ate and drank their way through his plays.

A feature on the BBC website quotes the producer Richard Jordan claiming that his trip to see Doctor Faustus in the summer was marred by “possibly the worst West End audience I have ever encountered”. He spotted takeaway chicken nuggets in the first half and “talking, eating and taking pictures throughout”.

The actor John Partridge told the BBC his most off-putting munching moment came when he was playing Zach in a production of A Chorus Line, a role which involves sitting with the audience.

“One show, I’m in the middle, delivering my lines and a guy two seats from me, goes into his bag, rustle, rustle, rustle, pulls out this kind of bucket of Chinese-style chicken wings. It’s not only the noise, they stink.

“He’s like, ‘Do you want one?’ I think: ‘I am immersed in my character right now. You’ve paid £80 to come and see this. Why would you want to come and eat?’

“People actually bring lunch, pre-packed in a Tupperware box. What is that? I am with Imelda. No eating in the theatre.”

Yes, Imelda is right on this. Incidentally, many years ago, she sang in a band with my university friend Mike Orchard in which a weighty and grumpy violinist used to sing a version of The Laughing Policeman. Also in that band was the noted stage designer William Dudley, and an actor called Jack (the surname has slipped away) who ended up in EastEnders for a while.

As for Imelda’s complaint, if you have a hunch you’d like to munch during a show, don’t take anything in with you. Just sit there and watch. And don’t fiddle and fart around with your mobile phone either. And I say that as someone who is always fiddling and farting around with his.

As for those giant buckets of popcorn in the cinema, oh don’t get me started on those…


  1. If you were not meant to eat in the theatre, they wouldn’t chuck wagon wheels at us from the stage!

    Seriously, a few sweets (ideally without wrappers and in a non-noise making cup rather than a rustling bag) are not a problem, but smelly savouries does seem a little extreme! And as for drinking, having suffocated in the Gods at numerous theatres, you’d probably pass out if you didn’t – and you don’t want to miss the end!

Leave a Reply